How technology has changed the public service (and will continue to do so…)

It is broadly accepted that technology has, and will continue to shift how we work in the public service. Shifting from typing pools and word processing to the advancement of big data, digital disruption and artificial intelligence – the magnitude of change has been extraordinary and the pace of change looks set to increase. How we operate and use technology to develop and deliver programs and services to the communities we serve will also continue to evolve.

IPAA Queensland took a moment to ask some members of its Advisory Council about major technological changes during their tenure.

Mobile Technology and broader technology advancements – Michelle Lees (General Manager, Australian Department of Human Services)

Available technology and improved tools which has fundamentally changed the way we work. The way we deliver services and even to the extent when I first started work we didn’t have computers. We had typing pools and word processing officers and all of the customers were paid by cheque. It was only the year after I started that we started to pay people by direct debit. So whether it is technology to support those we are serving or the tools we use as public servants, technology has fundamentally changed the way we work.

I think for me it has also been mobile computing including the capacity to video conference. That’s really been a game changer for me. The ability to video conference into different places and being able to build that sense of teams with virtual team members. I also think that it gives far more flexibility around work location, hours worked – you can still connect in face to face at meetings and in one-to-one contact. WE will see far more flexible work arrangements in the public service using this technology.

Big data – Rachel Hunter (Director-General – Department of the Premier and Cabinet)

I think if you look forward, the big data and analytics technologies are going to significantly change and disrupt the way governments deliver services – including how we develop public policy. Certainly AI will in some cases substitute for the more routine functions of Government, but what that will do is shift public servants’ efforts towards more of the human-to-human interactions, including consultation and engagement with community. Government is a complex business, increasingly we will need public servants who are well attuned to communicating, engaging, listening and synthesising community sentiment to augment the evidence base that the data analytic capability provides. The future Public Service will shape public policy that is understood and nuanced to give people genuine choice – I think we are going to see much higher order analytic, policy, and people capability required of public servants in the future.

Obviously, machines will provide the data analytics, but humans will enhance the interpretation, both in terms of using and shaping the evidence that is fit for purpose for whatever the public policy outcome they are required to deliver. The ability to generate and use data, and develop big data analytical capability with a public policy purpose in mind, will define successful public service. That will be the big change which defines the future work of many public servants.

Interpret, Synthesise, Deliver.

AI and Big Data – James Purtill (Director-General – Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy)

Data Analytics and arguably AI will provide the biggest technology shift. I am a scientist and this is a technical organisation, but that is not where it’s at. For infrastructure for example,, AI gives you the ability to take the accumulated knowledge of a 45 year certified practicing engineer and capture the decision making capability from those years of experience and bottle it. It is going to be extraordinary. And it is going to be people who are adept at data curation that are going to be able to do that. You will still need to have technical expertise, I don’t think we will get to a stage where you won’t need that, but they will have expertise that is different. The analogy of a pilot today versus a pilot back in the day; they both fly planes, but it is a totally different skill set now.

In this portfolio, we are the custodians of the state’s spatial data, including the cadastre. When you look out across the city, you know that everyone has a title on their property, and now there is a 3D map of all that with beautiful visualisations. You can pinpoint a specific point in space and that protects people’s property rights, their wealth. Through Planet Labs, we have satellites roughly the size of a bread loaf constantly scanning and flying over the state daily, sending data. It is an extraordinary amount of data. We are still trying to deal with that bit, but the true gold comes for those who can take the output of that and do something interesting with it. Turning it into something special.

Only time will tell how technology will continue to evolve how we undertake public purpose work and how we use technology to deliver services and policy to our communities.

Hardware and Data – Neil Scales (Director-General, Department of Transport and Main Roads)

The Department of Transport and Main Roads is doing a lot. Drones are being used to not just see what is going on, but we use them for bridge survey work so that we don’t have to stop traffic. We can get under bridges without getting people underneath, which leads to fewer traffic interruptions – and it’s safer and easier.

We have 3D printers that we use for bridge design. We are using plastics and composites for projects. We have formed bitumen and EME2 which are products that we use to surface the roads, which use less product which equates to less greenhouse gases being produced.

We have developed ‘Hold the Red’ which is a radar device that will calculate how quickly you are travelling at intersection and will effectively hold the red light in the other directions in order to prevent t-bone car accidents.

We have the biggest, single trial happening with autonomous vehicles or ‘driverless cars’ in Ipswich this year.

We have ‘Mobility as a Service’ – so in the future we will connect everything together so that you will make your choice as to what mode of transport you will use before you leave the house. We put 244 data sets on the Queensland portal every year and it is really rich data. We have done a data audit on everything we have and we manipulate it a lot. If you look at the Translink app, we have real time bus, train, tram and ferry data on there so it will tell you when the next trip is coming, so we are using a lot of that. But mobility as a service is the next big thing – we are looking to become a transport ‘broker’. People do not care who owns the network, they just want to use it. So the purpose of the department is to create a single, integrated transport network for everyone. That is what we are trying to build.

There is also ‘Smart Ship’ which will be used for training pilots. We have over 100 different ports in ‘Smart Ship’ and a full wrap around screen so that as a pilot, you can learn how to dock a vessel without going to the port. We use this to great effect in Gladstone, on the Curtis Island Gas Terminals. The pilots are trained on how to dock safely at that port before they get on the ship to arrive there.

So there is a whole theme park of things that we are doing here that are ahead of the game in a lot of ways but we don’t necessarily celebrate them all. And we probably should!

About IPAA Queensland:

IPAA Queensland is the professional association for people engaged in public purpose work.

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