Despite different economic and social profiles, there is one common feature that all countries on earth have – a governing bureaucracy. Stemming from the idea that bureaus, or desks in an office, can be the source of administrative power, governments all over the world oversee a myriad of laws and regulations to govern all facets of life and economic activity. This is the essence of this industry division. And in a changing world – think advances in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, or electric vehicles – it is important as to how governments, judiciaries and enforcement and protection bodies respond. Even the military and diplomatic sub-sectors of this industry are not immune from the change that is happening. And that is what this article is about – change. What could happen at an individual level (careers) and at an organisation level (government). It is a futurist’s take on how things might pan out over the next 10 years or so.
Specifically, though, the future of this industry is viewed through the lens of climate change and computerisation. For these are the two global megatrends that are shaping much of the world as we know it. There are other global megatrends, in areas such as society and demographics (eg as yet unclear long term trends as a result of the pandemic), but their influence on the public administration and safety industry is not as significant.
About the global megatrend of climate change
At a high level we can recognise some ways that the rising atmospheric concentration of green-house gases has changed our world. For example, increasing frequency and duration of once rare high wet-bulb temperatures, and hurricanes becoming more intense and shift toward the poles in the tracking. But we also need to be aware of what changes have been wrought at a localised level. For example, over the last 50 years the mangroves forests on Mexico’s Pacific coast have expanded inland at the expense of their coastal fringe. All due to rising and warming waters.
However, unless there is significant and globally systematic reduction in the volume of global GHG emissions (the concentration of one of these GHG, CO2, is currently sitting at about 420ppm), then precipitation will continue to rise in intensity, ocean levels will continue to rise, and temperatures will continue to rise. Impacting life as we know it (eg. although only 17% of cities around the world have experienced a statistically significant rise in urban flooding events over the last 50 years, it is expected that this percentage will continue to rise in the decades ahead.)
About the global megatrend of computerisation
Computers rely upon memory to work. There are broadly two types of computer memory – mass storage memory and working memory. We are quite familiar with mass storage, it’s the internal hard drives and the external USB devices and drives that we store our photos, videos and documents.
While mass storage memory has improved in terms in capacity and speed, so too has working memory. Known as RAM (random access memory), the performance of this particular piece of computer hardware plays a significant role at to how well the overall computer works.
Early examples of RAM components are a far cry to what we use today. Fredrick Williams used a cathode ray tube to hold volatile data on its screen, and MIT developed a system of small magnetic donuts thread with wire to store a series of ones and zeros. And the precursor to our current silicon-based RAM came on the scene in the late 1960s.
Since that time, the capacity of RAM chips has grown. From Intel’s “1103” model with a capacity of 1,000 bits to today’s industry standard “DDR5” that can work with 512 billion bits. And since that time, the price of RAM chips has fallen. From well over $100k per MB in 1970 to about one thousandth of a cent per MB today.
This exponential increase in the capacity of working memory, coupled with its falling cost, gives rise to computers that can work efficiently with ever increasing data sets. Whether this data be from digital sensors, from images, or from the workings of complex algorithms. This trend will only ever continue.
The impact of these two influences
Firstly, turning to the megatrend of climate change and its impact upon the public administration and safety industry.
One area that where this will be felt is across a suite of activities such as legislative and regulatory action, and administration of government programs. Consider the following: changes in enforcement efforts towards perhaps new and tighter environmental standards and attendant certifications, a shift in the focus of grant programs toward green investments, and subsidies and taxation rebates supporting the move to clean energy. All this implies that public administration will be in a period of transition to a new normal.
A primary focus of this suite of activities is on the reduction in Green House Gas emissions. The major sources of these emissions are, carbon dioxide: fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and cement production; and methane: fossil fuel production, agriculture and landfills.
Another focus is upon the efficiency of energy usage, whether in transport, across say manufacturing, or as it applies to the built environment (new or retrofitting)
The implication is of preparation, and two particular aspects of preparation: motivational mindset and research effort. With respect to the motivational mindset, governing bureaucracies around the world know how to administer societies that are powered by fossil fuels, but don’t have much experience with ones entirely dependent upon renewable energy. Similarly, they are well acquainted with governing frameworks that have a sustainability perspective on the environment (eg. manufacturing, waste, utilities, retail, etc), but they are yet to grapple with seeing the environment using a survivability framework. That is, if administration is not done right a society’s survival is at stake.
With respect to research effort, these same organisations are well acquainted with maintaining business as usual. But a transition to something new requires a level of preparation to ensure the “new normal”, on the other side of the change, operates just as well as the current “old normal”.
Associated with climate change ushering in this “new normal” is the increased likelihood and impact of extreme weather events. For it is the emergency services component of the public administration and safety industry that will be responding to these events. Whether from more frequent fires due to longer and hotter summers, or more intense storms due to increased ocean temperatures and atmospheric moisture, there will be a greater call upon the financial, capital, human and system resources of emergency services organisations.
And not forgetting the judiciary and how they will respond to the growing trends of climate litigation. Categories such human rights, refugees, planning regulations, company law and consumer protection are all seeing increases in climate-change case load.
Secondly, there is global megatrend of computerisation.
One obvious trend relates to privacy, the protection of data and cybersecurity. With ICT systems being used to improve the efficiency of government operations, risks that the information governments hold and process on behalf of their citizenry escalate.
Another trend is the increasing pervasiveness of regulatory technology, also called RegTech. It is ideal for circumstances that require governments to undertake auditing, monitoring and compliance activities into specific industries (for example, aged care and finance)
Another way to frame this is that public administration is experiencing increasing digitisation, converting analogue information to digital, and digitalisation, shifting from manual to digital processes. This then sets the scene for the introduction of artificial intelligence, where tasks and decisions become machine-centric rather than human-centric.
Specifically then, the power of artificial intelligence (AI), supported by the flow of data from sensors, cameras, and other sources (eg. people filling out forms, or people engaging with government-run customer service agents) can be used to quickly report on and respond to on discrepancies in the monitored physical world. For example, problems with utility pipes, transmission lines and traffic flows. Or for say in responding to attacks on cybersecurity vulnerabilities, or to general criminal activity.
Also, increasing digitisation and digitalisation gives rise to increasing complexity. When information becomes digital, and when processes are run by computers, the sharing of data across silos becomes feasible. Witness the recent matching of electronic vaccine records, held by health departments, with passport information, held by foreign affairs departments – improving efficiency for the travelling public, and creating new forms of value for governments. All the while adding to the complexity of government information systems.
And then there is the distributed ledger called the blockchain. Where, for example, use cases of this technology are for transactions require proof of ownership, or for services require the validation of documents.
However, a constant thread running through all of these advances has to do with the ethical use of technology. To a greater or lesser extent, societies governed by jurisdictions around the world differ on their attitudes toward their data being held, processed and used by their governments. That is, while digital technology can be used to do something should it be?
In summary, as it is with other industry divisions, we can see that the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation the impact the public administration and safety industry for the foreseeable future. Climate change will primarily be felt in terms the development and implementation of administrative processes, whereas computerisation will mainly have an impact upon the efficiency and responsiveness of all operations. Important to note is that because this industry division governs other industry divisions, the needs of these other sectors will drive change within the public administration and safety industry.
What are your prospects
From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:
If you are more the “get it done” type: you’ll be implementing regulation and government program changes as external industries go through their transition to a “new normal”
If you are more the “thinking” type: there’ll be a greater need to understand, explain and synthesise the work products of artificial intelligence. You’ll need to understand what it will take for external industries to shift to an energy efficient “new normal”
If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll have greater opportunities to create value because of the richness of available data
If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to support citizens as their physical and digital worlds change around them
If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an industry that will become more complex due to digital technology and under-going change as it seeks to adapt to external industry needs as they respond to changing environmental conditions
If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with not only changing regulations, but also changing market dynamics
Overall, from a career perspective, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable with an industry that in many ways is being significantly challenged by these two global megatrends. Not only will the challenge come from within the industry, but the other industries that it governs.
And from a business perspective, like with other industries, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). When it comes to computerisation, its all about using data and artificial intelligence. So, for those operating within the public administration and safety industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:
Mitigation: external industry support, increasing the burden of oversight
Resilience: preparation for external industry change, surge workforce capability
Data usage: privacy and cybersecurity, leveraging complexity to create value creation
Artificial intelligence: ethical usage, implementation and training
Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.
The public administration and safety industry, like all other sectors of any economy, is being affected by the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation. Not only will these phenomena continue to change the industry, but because this industry is in a formal position to govern other industries – what happens in other sectors will influence it. An economy-wide transition to a “new normal” that is more sustainable will drive internal change. The incessant push for greater administrative efficiency through the application of digital technology will similarly continue to drive internal change.
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