One of my colleagues recently wrote a thought-provoking piece making the connection between the U.S. Constitution and Agile methodology. As a bit of a history buff myself, it got me thinking about the language used in our founding documents: in particular, the recurring theme of a government for all stuck with me as it relates to my clients in the public sector.
While these clients’ reasons for working in public sector are varied, there’s a common thread that connects them: the desire to provide access to the best possible services for all their citizens given the resources at their disposal. I cannot think of an event in recent history that has tested the notion of access for all more than the current global pandemic.
Challenges for the public sector during the pandemic
There are many hurdles for the public sector during the pandemic, but two challenges are particularly daunting: disparity of access for citizens, and the availability of effective resources. First, let’s examine the challenge of access. Disparity among constituents has been a challenge in government for decades – long outdating the current pandemic. The vital services provided by the public sector, however, helped to bridge (or at least narrow) that gap. Economically disadvantaged students, for instance, sat right next to more affluent students in their school busses, cafeterias and classrooms – getting the same access to education and more.
The pandemic has disrupted that. Even though schools may provide free or reduced-price meals to students, many of these students do not have transportation to receive them. Similarly, even if curriculum is made available online for all students, many students do not have access to broadband internet or a quiet environment at home to learn. Similar challenges can be found across the public sector: in access to healthcare, social welfare, public transportation and more.
The impact of analog processes during a digital pandemic
The second major challenge facing the public sector is the availability of effective resources. Ask anyone in the public sector what skills make them different from their counterparts in private sector, and they’ll tell you: resourcefulness. They have to do much more with much less, often relying on processes and systems that were designed primarily to reduce costs: analog, paper-based, offline and quirky. When the pandemic hit, forcing us away from our workplaces, many of these processes slowed significantly or broke down altogether. They literally could not – regardless of the resourcefulness of those using them – function in a digital world. For example, services like the issuance of identification cards and other business permits and licenses became much more difficult to administer as in-person services quickly ground to a halt at the onset of the pandemic.
While this pandemic has highlighted the limitations of existing processes and systems, it also provides an opportunity for those resourceful leaders in the public sector to reimagine the future of work.
Every silver lining has a touch of gray
Before discussing the opportunity for the future of work in public sector, I want to describe something that happened in my household. In the early days of the pandemic, my teenage son started playing a multiplayer online game. In a matter of weeks, he went from being what he calls a “total n00b” to winning his first battle royale. Now, while I wouldn’t put this as one of his top five life accomplishments, it does provide an important parallel to the future of work in the public sector. My son gained mastery of this new game in 30 hours, many of the systems used by public sector have taken 30 years to master. As many current public sector employees are getting ready to retire, how do we entice their replacements – the future workforce – to build a career in the public sector knowing that it could take decades, not weeks, to gain mastery of the systems in which they work?
An opportunity to transform the public sector
Our 2020 CGI Client Global Insights shows that state and local government clients are increasing their focus on becoming digital organizations through the pandemic. Government clients surveyed for the report after the start of the pandemic reported a 24 percent increase in priority around “becoming digital to meet citizen expectations.” A response to the pandemic created the immediate need to adapt how they stay connected, productive and responsive to citizens’ needs, but it also provides an opportunity to transform for decades to come.
Government can expect to see significant changes in the way their employees and citizens interact with and utilize their services. Government can proactively prepare across three fundamental areas:
- Changing workforce: The reorganization, required capabilities and upskilling of the workforce to enable collaboration, agile teams and increased productivity anytime, anywhere.
- Accelerated automation and working processes: Accelerating the creation and adoption of artificial intelligence, automation tools and changed processes to support the new operations and constituent expectations.
- Fundamental technologies: Upgrading and enhancing legacy policies, collaboration tools and technology in order to enable rapid and effective working environments, including cybersecurity and cloud infrastructure.
Back to the beginning: providing for all our citizens
At the end of this pandemic we will reach a new normal. It will be new, in that the ways the public sector provides value to citizens – the processes and workflows, the skills and the technology needed to deliver value – will change fundamentally. It will also be normal in that the fundamental pact – to provide access to the best possible services for all their citizens given the resources at their disposal – will continue.
Learn more about how CGI is helping shape the future of work for public sector clients.