Governments around the world are undergoing a positive transition. An enormous number of services are better managed and delivered, thanks to technologies like mobility and cloud computing. Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence are starting to be applied to big, hard problems—from making our roads safer by detecting potholes and prioritizing fixing highways at a much larger and more efficient scale, to better understanding our solar systems and unleashing the power of technology to enable interactive learning experiences.
In 2023, these technology-based changes will have some of their greatest impact in the most vital, least-noticed part of government services: the lives of government workers themselves.
That is a big deal. Government is collectively the world’s largest employer, with local, regional and nationwide workers, along with people in areas like communications, defense and public safety. In the U.S. alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.2 million people are government employees. To put that into perspective, Walmart, one of the largest private sector employers, has 1.6 million people.
Government employees develop and deliver critical services to millions of people daily. Their success impacts countless lives, providing the basis for mission pride and personal fulfillment. Employee frustrations with effectively delivering government services, feeling like their views and suggestions aren’t heard and outdated systems have the opposite effect. At a time when government employers fight to retain top-talent, it’s critical to improve the experience of helping people.
Here are four ways I’ve seen improvements in critical daily work for government employees, which I think will grow stronger in the coming year.
In any mission-driven organization, performance and satisfaction improve when there is easy access to information, goals are well understood by all, people feel heard and it’s possible for employees to make positive contributions. This has been unnecessarily hard in government, owing to antiquated and heterogeneous systems, sometimes even involving both outdated email and paper-based systems. At both the state and federal level in the U.S., I’ve met senior leaders who carry (at least) two phones—not out of personal desire, but simply to do their work.
Security is rarely viewed as something that makes life better. At best, it’s a dog that doesn’t bark—a good day means there are no hacks, no fraudulent activities and no ransomware. There is computer security, and there is computer security that puts people at the forefront.
Old-style security involves passwords, tokens, firewalls and other barriers and thingamabobs that old-style designers layered on computer systems. Mercifully, that’s now giving way to cloud-based zero trust approaches, which enable people to simply do their work, while systems in the background do the heavy lifting of keeping things safe. On the security operations side, most detection and response workflows are getting automated. In both cases, it means more time for people to do meaningful work, and fewer chances for gaps to open up in system security.
Security built into a computing platform, not bolted on in different pieces, isn’t the only improvement. The fraud detection strategies that cloud providers offer banks and financial institutions are also available for government workers who dispense checks at all levels. This helps public servants feel more confident that their money is going to the right people, and there’s more money available to those who need it. For example, during the pandemic, Wisconsinites saw a speedy response to their unemployment claims. The state also successfully screened out fraudulent claims so that the UI program could be administered—with integrity—to Wisconsinites who needed financial assistance.
AI is serving as an excellent tool in hard optimization problems, like effectively delivering unemployment assistance. At the more advanced levels of deep scientific research, like cosmology, genetics, climate science, and healthcare delivery, AI has become an essential tool, delivering dramatic research breakthroughs.
Areas of basic research are tougher in the private sector, since they require years of capital commitment, and much learning, on the way to success. For example, the first semiconductors and lithium-ion batteries were fostered by government backing, along with literally thousands of other products from the space program alone. These research endeavors are literally moonshots, but they hold the promise of generating entirely new fields of economic development, protection and the joy of greater human knowledge.
Upskilling and creating
Online training and continuous education has made an enormous difference in the lives and careers of people in both the public and private sectors. One of the senior security leaders at Google Cloud learned his craft online while at the FBI, for example.
Writing software is rapidly becoming something people of many skill levels can likewise access more easily. Software today has highly specialized engineers at one end of the spectrum, and the general population accessing “drag and drop” programing services at the other.
In the industry, this is also known as “low code/no code” programming, which amounts to adding automated processes to standard data sets, like spreadsheets, that millions of people use every day. Besides increasing the speed and power of a standard working environment, these new techniques free up advanced programmers, data scientists and AI experts to do even more value-added work, improving their work experience too.
One stunning example of this we’ve seen recently was in the State of Hawaii, where the Department of Transportation built models to assess risk and prioritize investment decisions for 2,500 miles of highway, much of it subject to erosion from sea-level rise, looking at things like climate, assets and potential community impact. This privacy-protected information is easily shared across agencies, counties and cities, resulting in better information flows, more feedback and meaningful impact for these civil servants and the communities they serve.
Upskilling the existing workforce is only one piece of the equation—it will be critical for the public sector to also build a long-term talent pipeline. For every 10 government jobs posted from July 2021 through August 2022, only four were filled.
In 2023, these major trends will not only positively impact government workers, but will also have positive implications for the customers of government services, like the tax-paying general public. They are foremost in the mission of government. It’s great to think their experiences will be better for this. Even better to imagine millions of public servants getting better work done, with more satisfaction, in 2023 and years to come.