Sponsored The COVID-19 crisis, new technologies, demographic shifts, personal aspirations and changing public expectations is affecting people and roles in the public sector. Governments must undertake workforce and workplace transformation to attract and retain the right talent.
The Public Service – an employer of choice
The opportunity to help shape the future, to make the world a better place to live in, makes the public sector a highly attractive career option. Unfortunately, this is just one – albeit very important – factor of many that come in play in talent attraction and retention.
In terms of compensation, the public sector clearly cannot compete with the generous packages offered by the private sector, particularly for professions in demand, where knowledge and experience attract a high premium.
At the same time, the young and sophisticated millennials who will form the main bulk of the next-generation workforce, differ significantly in their expectations from the older generation. Broadly speaking, they want a good work-life balance as well as a varied and engaging work experience with good career development and rapid progression up the ranks.
Having grown up in the era where information can be accessed instantaneously, with broadband, smartphones, laptops and social media being the norm, they expect such technologies to be used in their everyday work.
Millennials have a strong desire to engage people preferring to work in teams where they can keep learning and receive regular feedback. Hence, they are uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and information silos, preferring to work with flexibility, agility with instantaneous data access.
This means the public sector will need to embrace technology and transform its working culture into one that is innovative, collaborative, and agile if it is to remain as an employer of choice. One possibility is the “Workforce as a Service” concept, a model similar to how resources are managed in the consulting industry.
For instance, a large population of the public sector workforce with generic skillsets could be managed as a central resource pool to be deployed on a project by project basis that could be applied across many sectors and scenarios. Example job roles include policy writers, engineers, data analysts, software designers, etc.
This will speed up the development of centres of expertise, improve talent supply and demand matching, leading to diverse career paths with enhanced employee engagement. Instead of rigid structures with fixed roles and responsibilities that stifle creativity, the increased mobility will enrich the overall working experience, and prevent work routine fatigue from setting in.
Overcoming resistance to change
As always, such changes are easier said than done. The public service culture is generally risk-averse by nature compared to the private sector, where employees who innovate are often richly rewarded. Public officers are more likely to be penalized for failure than they are to be rewarded for innovation or outperformance.
Hence, there is substantial resistance to change; and the status quo and doing nothing is preferred especially when things appear to be fine. Additionally, there is also great concern that digitalization, automation, machine and technology which are synonymous with change will inadvertently replace people, leading to job losses and shifts in power bases.
Wholesale changes of culture can be daunting, so transformation could perhaps be implemented in phases in pocket sizes, in select areas where greater success could be reaped. A good example is GovTech Hive, an initiative launched by the Singapore government to address mistakes associated with functioning as siloed agencies.
Taking its cues from start-up culture, GovTech Hive formed a multidisciplinary team of data scientists, designers, and engineers to deliver innovative services across government agencies. This was a massive significant shift from the usual method, in which departments and agencies designed and built their own products and solutions.
Some of GovTech Hive’s top achievements include the Business Grants Portal, a user-centric, one-stop platform for businesses to tap into various government grants, cutting out all the usual bureaucracy and red tape.
In addition, it is important to communicate stories of how technology has been used to augment rather than replace people’s needs to be communicated. A good example is the Huawei AI-assisted Diagnosis Solution, co-developed with partners to aid healthcare personnel in COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Computerized tomography (CT) is a vital tool to detect spots on patients’ lungs, which is a sign of pulmonary lesions. The entire process, from scan review, analysis, data input to report generation is slow and labour intensive, easily taking close to 12 minutes just for a single case. It is also occasionally prone to human error too.
Using the solution to aid scan review and analysis, the total time needed is reduced to just two minutes with almost zero errors, significantly raising the quality of diagnoses. In this instance, the medical personnel is not replaced but continues to play a critical role, supported by enabling technology.
Next generation workplace
Beyond workforce changes, workplace transformation is equally important. This is a key factor in the overall employee experience, whether it is in the indoor office or out in the open at the frontline.
For decades, the communication solutions used by public safety agencies could only support voice and a small amount of data transmission in the form of short messages, as it was based on outdated narrowband technology. Consequently, routine work and incident management operating models were built around using frontline officers as ‘eyes’. They gather information and relay it to the command center where decisions are made. These are then communicated to the frontline officers who act accordingly.
Such a process, with over-reliance on the ability of the individual to assess and understand the situation, is inefficient and sub-optimal, and in many instances contributes heavily to poor decisions. The maturity of broadband technology has since given rise to new possibilities. For example, public safety agencies using Huawei’s Converged and Command Solution based on broadband technology are now able to adopt new operating models.
With voice, video and data capabilities, decision making and frontline empowerment are enhanced as real-time video information and other data sources can now be included for analysis, when necessary. The apps running on the new broadband terminals are also popular as they are easy to use, bringing increased convenience and efficiency associated with mobility to public safety operations.
The dedicated broadband network also supports drone deployment, enabling them to augment frontline patrols, transmitting live aerial video feed to command centers, and thereby facilitating resources dispatch and allocation. Drones can also be deployed to help monitor activities outdoor and in public places such as event monitoring, fire tracking, search and rescue missions, shortening response times substantially.
Similarly, governments can make use of cloud and other cutting-edge technologies such as 5G and IoT devices in the office environment to enable higher levels of collaborative working, thus overcoming the constraints of distance or the need for physical presence.
A good example is Huawei’s IdeaHub, a software system for digital whiteboards. A Red Dot Award 2020 winner, IdeaHub is designed to suit any environment, effortlessly turning conference rooms, executive offices, and open areas into smart spaces. By enabling the sharing of resources in real-time among contributors anywhere in the world, the productivity and ability of ad-hoc project teams are optimized.
Also, discussion content, drawings, edited presentations and ideas recorded on the IdeaHub screen can be shared real-time to other remote sites with a single tap, making it an ideal tool for tele-classrooms and remote learning.
Public sector transformations will always be more complex than their private sector counterparts, with many more factors and stakeholders to be considered. That’s why it is paramount that we get the people component right. By leveraging technology, we can empower the workforce and improve workplace experiences.
You can find more information about Huawei’s solutions in government here.
This article is sponsored by Huawei.
About the author Based in China, Augustine Chiew is the APAC and Russia Lead for Government Business, Enterprise Business Group, Huawei. Prior to joining Huawei, he spent 17 years in the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs and 3.5 years as a consulting executive. At Huawei, Augustine supports APAC governments in their digital transformation journey having worked on projects in Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong, amongst others. He helps them better understand future challenges, emerging trends and identify best practices to support implementation of innovative digital solutions.