The Internet of Things: Turning Data Into Insights and Actions

    September 12, 2016

PhotoI recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the IJIS Institute on a presentation on the Internet of Things (IoT) for Community Corrections. The presentation, delivered at last month’s American Probation and Parole Association conference, provided an overview of the concept of IoT, potential benefits to probation and parole agencies, and implementation challenges. So, what exactly is IoT and what are the potential implications and opportunities for community corrections?

In essence, IoT (aka “Internet of Devices,” “Internet of Everything,” “Array of Things,” etc.) is the notion that any device that has an on-and-off switch can be connected to the Internet and/or to other devices. Devices include computers, machines, appliances and sensors. People, through the use of body-worn computers, monitors and cameras, are also a major component of IoT. IoT uses cloud-based applications to collect, interpret and transmit data coming from the various networks of sensors and devices. The overall intention is to make interconnected things more intelligent, programmable and capable of interaction with humans.

Although IoT is certainly not new to community corrections (agencies have been using Internet-connected devices to monitor offender location for almost two decades), the rapid growth of IoT is creating new opportunities. For some perspective, there were approximately 8.7 million connected devices in 2012 – some predict that number could increase to 2012 billion by 2020. It is important to note that the sensors and devices that are currently in use are typically proprietary in nature and data generated are not easily shared. That said, the real power of IoT shines through when a variety of devices collect observations and interact with each other producing a desirable result.

So, what are the potential benefits of all these connected devices? For one thing, IoT can improve situational awareness from both the offender’s and officer’s perspective. As sensors become more ubiquitous, we will have access to more robust and varied data regarding individual and group behavior, location and environment. Imagine, for example, a future state where officer location points (gathered by their smartphones or automated vehicle location) are automatically linked with social network analysis feeds so that the officer is alerted if they are about to enter a neighborhood where there has been a recent spike in anti-law enforcement sentiment.

A second important benefit is that the data collected can be turned into actionable insights that allow for pre-emptive intervention. As wearable technology becomes more ubiquitous, we can begin to monitor an offender’s vital signs in different ways. Imagine an environment where an alert is generated when a sex offender’s heartbeat and respiration become elevated beyond normal range when he is at a particular location in the community. This information can prompt the supervision officer to investigate further and perhaps determine that the offender has been hanging around an unlicensed daycare center or may lead the officer to discover that a minor has recently moved into the home.

Finally, IoT can help support more predictive community corrections operations. For example, sensors can feed dynamic risk/needs assessment tools with near-real time data in a variety of ways. Fixed proximity beacons positioned in a treatment provider’s office can immediately detect that the offender did not report for a scheduled counselling session; sleep monitoring sensors may indicate that the offender is not reporting to work and may have lost her job; other wearable technology might detect lower than normal body temperatures during the evenings, which may indicate loss of housing. Such information received in a timely manner can assist in the automated recalibration of offender’s risk/needs levels.

As IoT develops and matures, there are many issues that need to be worked through, particularly in the areas of standards, scalability, privacy, data integrity and security. Further, agencies need to be cognizant of the potential for information overload. Obviously IoT will create vast amounts of data. Clearly some data streams might be very valuable while many others will never amount to anything other than “noise.” For this reason, agencies will need to be extremely discriminant.

With industry investing billions of dollars in IoT related products and services, IoT is beginning to change the way government and business functions. Community corrections agencies need to begin thinking about how they can best leverage these advancements to capture the most relevant data and turn them into insights and actions.

Joe Russo is the Corrections Technology Lead at JTIC. Prior to working at JTIC, Joe supported a variety of NLECTC programs over the previous 19 years.  He has also worked for the New York City Department of Corrections and New York City Department of Probation.