Technology will make today’s government obsolete and that’s good

Sunil Johal of the Mowat Centre on the challenges to government with the coming IT/AI/Automation transformation.

With the government’s poor record in recent large scale IT projects (e.g., Shared Services Canada, Phoenix pay system), hard to be optimistic:

A 2016 study by Deloitte and Oxford University found that up to 850,000 jobs in the United Kingdom’s public sector could be lost as a result of automation by 2030, in administrative roles as well as jobs for teachers and police officers.

Merely applying these same projections to the Canadian public sector would mean over 500,000 jobs at risk out of 3.6 million public sector roles. But collective agreements could impede any attempts to pivot away from employees performing routine administrative tasks and towards workers with digital skills.

If the economy at large continues to wring efficiencies out of human labour and substitute technological approaches where possible, it becomes hard to imagine the public sector trundling along as it always has.

Quite simply, the public sector will need to develop a more efficient workforce and adopt more agile structures and strategies in order to maintain relevance in a digital world.

So, what’s the right path forward? While it’s promising to see governments and other public sector organizations move forward with digital service agendas, we can’t expect them to simply overlay digital solutions onto existing processes and reap the real benefits of technology.

Blockchain, AI, virtual government

The public sector, ranging from the core civil service to health care to education, must fundamentally transform how it operates.

Do we need countless contribution agreements, contracts and reimbursements to be physically vetted by clerks in multiple offices when blockchain technology could instantly verify all of those same transactions?

Do policy units need 30 advisers to prepare advice for government ministers, or can much of their work be done automatically with a select few adding high-value insights? Can we employ telepresence to reach students in remote communities with high-quality teachers? Will medical diagnostics be transformed by neural networks that can more accurately detect cancers and other diseases?

Countries like Estonia, widely regarded as the most advanced digital society in the world, demonstrate that it’s possible to rethink government as a digital platform.

Whether and how quickly Canada’s public sector can leverage technological advancements to radically increase the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and services will be perhaps its greatest challenge in the years to come.

Delays and missteps will only continue to put the public service further behind mainstream business and consumer trends, and risk a continued decline in relevance for our public institutions.

via Technology will make today’s government obsolete and that’s good

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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