Is Australia Prepared for the Sentinel Age?

Authors: Mark Watt & Sam Higgins

Human beings have always been aware of our position in space, whether relative to the things in our immediate vicinity or the seemingly infinite universe. Our spatial awareness has evolved, from the first prehistoric cave paintings, through to ideological obsessions with a flat earth to complex mathematics enabling geospatial representations of our planet and ultimately augmented realities.

Each of these “spatial ages” brought new and profound change to the way we interacted with our world and each other and has been enabled by a new wave of technological advancement.

Prepare for the Sentinel AgeSensor technologies in conjunction with ubiquitous and seemingly limitless information and communications technologies are now disrupting conventional business models and challenging government policy makers; and location intelligence is a fundamental enabler that gives context to the world we now inhabit – the Sentinel Age has arrived.

An accurate location reference framework provides context to the data collected by the ever-increasing number of devices with which we share the world. From the personal to the commercial, location-aware devices are all around us.

According to research conducted by TNS Australia in 2014, the average Australian now has five connected devices with smartphone penetration exceeding 75%  - each one inherently capable of providing its location the majority of the time within 100 metres.

While the estimated number of machine to machine connected devices now exceeds the number of people on the planet by a factor of over 3:1.

For Australia the benefits of widespread use of sensory devices combined with unlimited digital technology has the potential to provide a significant economic return. A fact not lost on our policy makers.

In 2011, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) undertook an investigation into the implications of sensor and monitoring technologies . The report identified tangible opportunities in sectors such as food production, healthcare, utilities, and the environment ranging from transport to disaster management.

Business Aspect’s own research into the implication of the Sentinel Age identifies six strategic considerations for organisations when developing strategic responses to the advent of the Sentinel Age:

  • Business opportunities - generating income through innovation, based on location-enabled information
  • Business efficiency - reducing costs through automation without human intervention
  • Social progress – improved communications through sensor triggered events
  • Environmental impact - monitoring changes
  • Minimising risk - identifying business, personal and social threats
  • Compliance – regulatory and safety related

The ACMA also identified challenges for business and regulators including considerations such as how to regulate device communications and associated services and functions which no longer involve individual people; provision of sufficiently robust cloud and network platforms to avoid life-endangering outages for health and critical infrastructure environments; and identity management of potentially billions of autonomous sensors to avoid widespread accumulation of lost or rogue devices without traceable identity.

In this Sentinel Age we see the increasing availability of reliable location information; the rapid rise of cloud computing (with seemingly limitless access to storage and infinite computing capacity to process massive data sets); and the maturity of devices that enable ubiquitous access to services and information from almost any location.

There is no doubt that this is leading to the advent of new industries. Opportunities are emerging from new (and disruptive) ways of delivering service and managing operations - from tapping an app on your phone to order a taxi; to enhanced in store retail experiences; right through to automated, remote controlled machine guidance for major mining operations.

These industries are already demonstrating real examples that link to the six strategic considerations we outline above.  They are already identifying new opportunities for business income, efficiencies, social progress, environmental management, a reduction in business risk and considerations for compliance.

The ability to locate people, assets or places to an extreme level of granularity and then process that data with value added systems in real time is creating opportunities across the spectrum of industries in our economy.  In some cases it is turning whole industries upside down. Are you prepared?