How prepared is the Australian Public Service for 2030?

The Australian Government has commissioned an Independent Review of the Australian Public Service (APS) by Boston Consulting Group. Through a scenario planning exercise, the Group developed four future scenarios in 2030, outlining the potential challenges, present gaps in capabilities and set recommendations. One of the scenarios was advancement in technology.

Calling it #techsplosion, the future of technology will witness an uptake and evolution of disruptive and breakthrough technologies. These include AI, quantum computing, bio-technology and blockchain accelerates. Data, advanced analytics and AI will become central to government policy and operations.

In preparing the report, the Group surveyed 2756 high ranking APS staff to understand their perspectives on the 2030 operating environment. Of which, 542 were from senior executive services and the rest from Executive Level 2 staff.

Respondents were asked for their perspective on which megatrends are the most impactful, and how prepared the APS is to address them.

A key insight was that employees outside of the ACT saw all technology related trends as having a higher impact than their ACT based colleagues.

Even more startling, is that the APS is most unprepared for most of the trends arising from the advancements in technology. The results showed that APS staff were unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence, an uptake of robotics and automation, and the rise of global tech giants.

Through the survey, a long-list of relevant megatrends specific to the APS operating environment was also identified. These include:

  • An increasingly data driven world
  • More cybersecurity risks
  • Rise of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • The continuation of the innovation imperative
  • An uptake of robotics and automation
  • The rise of quantum computing

While these trends might come as no surprise, what’s interesting to note is that the report recognises the significant uncertainty in how the evolving technology will play out.

It reads, “The development and adoption of specific technologies could continue, slow or accelerate. It is unclear how society will react to the advances of different technologies.”

“Government, will face challenges in responding to social change and potential dislocation, tackling cyber-security threats, and managing a re-shaping economy.”

“Opportunities will arise for government to harness the power of data and technology to understand public needs, solve complex problems and drive policy.”

From the standpoint of the present, the Group suggests that, with more computational power in citizen’s hands, pressure will be placed on the APS to deliver efficient and effective services. Organisationally, the APS needs to be on the look out for cybersecurity risks, be prepared for robots to take over some jobs, and a huge influx of unstructured data to deal with.

The Group provides five requirements for the APS to enjoy a glimmer of success.

First, the APS must lead in technology and data capability.

Second, the APS must use technology and big data to personalise policy and services.

Working in multi-disciplinary and cross-functional ways is the third requirement.

Following which, the APS must maintain an interconnected network of shared resources and information across the APS.

Finally, strong cyber and data security across the APS must be maintained.

Through the scenarios and recommendations, the Group hopes that actions are focused for organisational preparedness, resilience and fitness-for-purpose regardless of how the future eventuates.