‘Future thinking’ – anticipating and preparing for technological change

Every sixty seconds there are 4.1 million Google searches, 347,000 tweets, 461,000 Facebook logins and 103 hours of YouTube content is uploaded; we are using, consuming and developing technologies at an exponential rate.

There was a time when technology was really expensive and only governments could afford to purchase and use the latest gadgets, but those days have long gone.  The consumerisation of technology has made it relatively inexpensive and widely used, which means that governments and public services now struggle to keep up with their citizens.  They seem to be constantly on the back foot as the take-up of new technologies and the expectations of citizens outpace the legislative frameworks and outstrip the capabilities of governments to utilise, regulate and exploit new technologies.

Our privacy laws, for example, were not developed with an expectation that you could secretly video someone in a private situation and immediately upload it and share it with the World.   Similarly, our taxation and intellectual property laws did not envisage a World where you can instantly access and play millions of songs, or buy and download a product that is owned, delivered and invoiced by a firm that is resident in the UK, but pays no UK tax.

Part of the answer must be for government and public services to use the analytic skills and networks available to better anticipate the types of changes coming over the horizon and prepare now for some of the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

There will undoubtedly be new and as yet unimagined disruptive technologies over the coming years, but drawing on current trends, here are a few things of the many things to start thinking about? Cloud computing, big data, analytics, mobile computing, Internet of Things and social media are already here – do we understand that how best to exploit these technologies and where the dangers might come from?

Take the Internet of Things (see Technology Watch July 2015 and May 2014), as an example.  In every town there will soon be thousands of remote sensors collecting data about climate, air quality, traffic flows, transport, energy use, flood control and much more.  Do you know what information is available or planned to be collected by other organisations that might help you in your planning and service monitoring?  Do you have in place standards and protocols for sharing and publishing?  Are there things you shouldn’t be sharing?  Are you looking at ways to build automated monitoring and communications into all of your projects and services?

Looking slightly further forward, there are predictions of call centre staff increasingly being replaced by question answering, automated systems born of a marriage between the equivalents of Apple’s virtual assistant ‘Siri’, big data analytics and pattern recognition software.  Are there areas of your business where you can safely begin to experiment with these types of technologies?

Gazing even further over the horizon, there are fast developing plans for driverless vehicles, greater use of drones for civil reconnaissance and the possible use of robots to assist with health and social care.  There are potentially massive implications for infrastructure planning, regulation and public safety but there also huge opportunities for cost reduction, new ways of working and innovative thinking.  Who is thinking about these things?

Many in government and the public services will say they have to stay grounded and don’t have time for such fanciful thinking as they are too busy dealing with today’s problems of underfunding, expanding workloads and lack of resources.  I understand and sympathise, but investing a little time now could provide a big pay back, a bit like investing in a sprinkler system when you spend a lot of time fire fighting?

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