Guest blog: 5 technologies that will revolutionise local public services
In this feature piece, Sam Winterbottom, Public Sector Director, discusses how future technologies will shape and enhance the public sector landscape. He outlines the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and how citizens and employees expectations have changed due to this. Further to this, he breaks down how five different technologies can create important opportunities for public sector organisations in the future.
Back to the future
The past few years have completely revolutionised technology adoption within the local public services landscape.
Usually slower to adopt new technologies than its private counterpart, the public sector forced to step up to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent societal changes. A decade of innovation took place in less than two years – and long-held assumptions disintegrated before our eyes.
To fully understand what the future of local public services will look like, we first must look at and learn from the past.
Truth is, many people didn’t think that public services could be delivered remotely – or not as efficiently at least. Yet, a recent Accenture survey showed that almost 50% of public service employees reported that productivity has stayed the same or improved despite the move to remote working.
On top of that, people’s expectations rapidly changed, with Gartner research showing that 82% of citizens expected to use self-service in 2021, compared to 73% in 2020.
While limited budgets continue to be a challenge, local government is now facing a unique opportunity to fill in the gaps of an uncertain future with newer technologies that will reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and enable sustainable and resilient public services.
But what are these new technologies? And how will they change the way local government deliver services?
Reshaping the future of public services
The foundation of technology evolution starts with enhanced connectivity.
5G, the fifth generation of cellular networks, promises to be up to 100 times faster than 4G, lower latency and ultra-reliable wireless connectivity – across more devices than ever before per square kilometre.
With the advent of 5G, local government has the chance to build a hyperconnected future where services are delivered more digitally than ever.
The 5G opportunity in local government lies in improving infrastructure by creating smart, hyperconnected cities - this could mean more efficient refuse collection, intelligent street lighting and or even interactive and visually enhanced telehealth consultations, just to name a few.
Augmented and virtual reality
When we think of enhanced visual experience, we must mention the advent of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). With 5G enabling continuous streams of high-quality audio and video, AR and VR applications will enter the next stage of innovation.
Microsoft’s HoloLens – wearable technology enabling mixed realities – has already been deployed by the U.S. Army to train, rehearse and fight through the system. Similarly, in 2020 Bristol City Council funded the use of VR headsets for dementia care.
For local government, the possibilities of deploying VR and AR are endless. And so are the benefits – from transformative experiences (e.g., virtual surgeries in a VR environment; enhance tourist attractions, etc.) to mitigating risks and saving costs (e.g., real-time specialist support through wearable AR technology; public safety workers training, etc.).
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a hot topic in the past five years. While some of its applications might be concerning, such as deepfakes, it’s still important to find a place for it within public sector organisations.
The NHS is already championing this technology, with a recent £36-million boost recently award to test state-of-the-art AI technology in order to transform and improve the quality of care and the speed of diagnoses for conditions such as lung cancer.
AI has the power to help local public services solve complicated and time-consuming issues, such as automating tasks, predicting the spread of infectious diseases, or even just designing better policies. A good example? Hackney Council’s use of AI to identify families that may require extra support from the government.
Clearly, the way we communicate has changed – both at work and in our private lives. If the pandemic wasn’t enough to shake things up, the 2025 switch off of the legacy public switched phone network (PSTN) is only going to change things even further for both businesses and individuals.
At the same time, society as a whole has now a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the way we communicate and the channels we use to do it for years to come.
Digital services have become more popular than ever, and communities' expectations are rising. As we move forward, cloud-based communications solutions will become ubiquitous in the public sector. Not only do they allow local government to seamlessly interact with citizens, but to do so across a number of channels (e.g., voice, video, chat), at any time and anywhere.
For local public services, this is an opportunity to continue to embrace and encourage the adoption of digital communications channels, ensuring all citizens receive the experience and services they expect, when they expect them, and on the channels they prefer.
Blockchain, like AI, has been around for quite a few years, but while it’s made its name through financial and banking services (we’ve all heard of Bitcoin), the use cases in local public services could be varied and quite revolutionary.
In 2018, the UK’s Food Standards Agency successfully completed a pilot using blockchain technology. This was the first time the technology was used as a regulatory tool to ensure compliance in the food sector, and while it might seem an odd application, it highlights the exciting capabilities of this technology.
For local government, blockchain could be an opportunity to manage local waste management, regulate payments or validate documents in a cost-effective, efficient way. Thanks to its secure and immutable structure, this technology can also deliver greater transparency for citizens – increasing trust and confidence in local government.
Sam Winterbottom, Public Sector Director at Gamma
Sam specialises in solving public sector organisations’ problems by achieving their desired outcomes through technology. He is also a member of techUK's Local Public Services Committee (LPSC). The committee brings together a diverse range of tech industry leaders to champion the sector and drive an ambitious programme of activities between techUK and local public services.
Local Public Services Innovation: Creating a catalyst for change
techUK, in collaboration with its Local Public Services Committee, has published a new report making the case for enhanced digital innovation adoption across the UK’s local public services to improve citizens’ lives. The report, ‘Local Public Services Innovation: Creating a catalyst for change’