SICCAR: How can the public sector use technology to overcome the challenges of the next decade?
The 2020s seem set to be a decade of upheaval. Thankfully, developing technologies could increase the ability of public services to meet challenges.
This decade started in a troubling fashion—with the emergence of a global pandemic which dramatically shifted the way communities operate. While great strides have been made with vaccination programs, the effects of COVID-19 are far from behind us and its effects on society will likely continue.
While few of us would have predicted this in the 2010s, the growing challenges of data security and climate change were widely recognised. While the priorities of governments and public sector organisations were shifted to dealing urgently with COVID-19, these long-established challenges did not diminish.
The challenges of public health, data security, and climate destruction cannot be tackled by individuals alone. Public services, whether government bodies or other organisations, have an immense role to play. Fortunately, technological advances are providing potential tools that public services can use to overcome these obstacles.
Technology and public health
COVID-19 is the largest public health crisis in living memory. However, it is not unique or a statistical anomaly. The 21st Century alone saw outbreaks of avian influenza, the H1N1 virus, and the Ebola epidemic before 2020, and new strains of COVID continue to appear. The possibility of future viral pandemics cannot be ignored, and requires highly efficient and advanced public health precautions in order to avoid catastrophe.
Solutions such as lockdown restrictions, face masks, vaccinations, and a cultural shift towards working from home where possible have had significant positive impacts on minimising the COVID-19 crisis. Advances in Wi-Fi, broadband, and cloud technology enabled the rise of home working, and this trend only looks set to continue as these technologies develop further.
Health tracking technology is likely to play a huge role in preventing or combatting future developments with COVID as well as future pandemics. For example, data registers using Distributed Ledger Technology (or DLT) can provide secure, reliable ledgers of immutable data such as test results and vaccination status. The ability of DLT systems to document a Single Source of Truth can prevent inaccurate or falsified data and enable automated access to data by necessary organisations. Combined with technologies such as AI (currently being heavily invested in by the NHS), this could result in more efficient and accurate tracking of public health.
Technology and climate change
A significant challenge that public organisations will face over the coming decade is the changing of processes in order to meet the Net Zero emissions target. Thankfully, sustainable technologies are becoming increasingly advanced. For example, intelligent energy grid systems based on AI could increase efficiency and reduce wasted energy across wide areas.
It is not just internal processes that organisations must alter to meet the Net Zero target; the environmental sustainability of all partner organisations, such as suppliers in extensive and often globe-spanning supply chains, must be audited. When new suppliers or partners are chosen, the procurement process must now consider sustainability. This results in a huge number of data sources that must be accessed. Similarly to health tracking, DLT could provide the solution for emissions tracking.
DLT could not only help solve practical and ethical issues around ownership and control of information, but it could also enable organisations in healthcare, social care, emergency services, education, and other public services to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. In conjunction with expertly programmed AI and IoT (or Internet of Things) devices, national—or even global—smart networks could overcome many obstacles.
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