If we want to understand the future, reflecting on the past can help, revealing the impact of macro industry trends. For thousands of years, timber cutting was done with axes. It was hard, manual labor made possible by local blacksmiths figuring out how to pound metal into tools. By 1870, machinery became more sophisticated and enabled factories to manufacture saws that were lighter, making timber cutting faster and cheaper. By the 1950s, the gasoline engines became lighter and lighter – enter the chainsaw era. And tomorrow, we will have something else.
The point is, if we want to predict what the future could look like, we cannot simply look at developments in one field. We need to scan across all industries, interconnect what we see and what we have, to identify how we could combine them and make new things possible.
I’ve been at it now long enough to have seen this future “realm of the possible” – the latest greatest next thing – become first reality, then expected, then commonplace, followed by legacy, followed by memory to all, memory to some, and finally catalogued but forgotten. 8-Track tapes are an example.
Most of us have come to expect that advances in technology keep moving the bar on “the realm of the possible.” Less glaring, less understood, and less obvious is the change in customer expectations. An easy example: it is preposterous to think that any viable business today doesn’t have an online platform to advertise and sell its services. This increasingly applies to public services, long the bastion of long lines and red tape.
The public sector is not driven by the merciless competition that characterizes the commercial sector. But should they be? Strictly speaking, governments do not have customers – but then, are we, as taxpayers, not customers? And does that then not mean that we should be treated as customers – being delivered a service at the level we expect it to be delivered? And, in times where everything is digital and digitized, could we not expect our governments and the public sector to give us a say in what services are being provided to us?
The public sector cannot escape this change in consumer expectations. And public services, in part thanks to COVID-19, now need to be delivered with lower budgets, more securely, and more flexibly – to a public whose expectations have been shaped by the commercial markets. So, the question is, how can they deliver more, with less?
Changing the mindset is an important starting point. Recruiting talent is another. Governments need to start thinking what a “great government” should look like – one that incentivizes young people to support and create a digital government. One that has a purpose and can make it clear what’s in it for a younger generation. One that gets them to be interested and want to work in law enforcement, and the government.
At Unisys we are focusing on enabling local, regional and national public services to bridge the expectation gap. We help with document management, process automation, and analytics. We offer services to create an optimized digital workplace and to maximize infrastructures and cloud investments. We create more nimble and accessible public services, making them ready for the future – and helping them attract talent.
To meet changing demands and expectations, public services need technology as much as they need an open mindset. We may have great chainsaws now, but looking at the past, we can be confident that by interconnecting our experiences we will create a better future and expand the “realm of the possible.”