What can we learn from New Zealand’s digital future report?
Digital transformation doesn't need to intimidate with jargon, but should be seen as a way to empower public sector management and, ultimately, improve service user interaction.
New Zealand has long been seen as an ideal location to develop technology before launching to a worldwide audience. Does that mean, however, that the UK is at risk of being left behind? The cultural similarities we share with our Kiwi cousins - and their technophile status - means that digital transformation of the public sector can, in some areas, follow New Zealand’s lead.
Fit for the digital future is a recent report from The Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) and The Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM) and provides much food for thought. Both are concerned with the possibilities that new technologies can present for employees and citizens and, in particular, the amount of resources and revenue that can be saved through digitally improving public services.
Where the report explores and considers the hypotheticals of technologies, some as much as a decade away from widespread implementation, it is crucially different to our own approach: there is a pragmatic and realistic anticipation that seeks to keep pace with an increasingly digitally reliant landscape.
The document examines ten available and developing technologies, and the impact that they could have on public sector services. It is aimed at non-expert level government managers and, with its lack of jargon, is “not a document for the ‘techies’.” Each section explains the basic ideas and functions behind each technology, before exploring the potential benefits. These are as follows:
1. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and driverless vehicles
The use of UAVs for aerial photography and the practical application of this for emergency management (in particular search and rescue), environmental monitoring and regulation (e.g. detecting breaches of air quality regulations), security monitoring and infrastructure assessments.
Questions relating to privacy concerns, and particularly the problematic association of drones with spying, are considered. The prospect of how driverless cars could provide on-demand taxi services to commuters, and significantly reduce traffic, pollution and motor accidents is explored.
2. 3D printing
Despite the fact that local government does not tend to produce a large number of physical objects there is a potential for 3D printing to reduce the public sector's inventory of consumables. The report also examines overseas projects that have utilised 3D printing by producing simple housing. This raises the issue as to how inspections and other regulations might be carried out.
3. Mobile devices
Although most of the population are now very familiar with mobile devices, this section considers how advancements in processing power is beneficial for public sector workers - able to access information whilst out of office - as much as it further empowers service users. This section highlights the service FixMyStreet as an example of how mobile devices are already transforming public services.
4. Wearable technology
The potential for wearable technology to aid regulatory enforcement, such as parking wardens, is examined. Hands-free technology can also gather and record evidence in the field, as well as having the capability to access records on the move. Concerns relating to privacy, similar to those brought up in regards to UAVs, are highlighted as a potential barrier. There is also the suggestion that wearable technology could be used in conjunction with augmented reality platforms.
5. Augmented reality
Much of the potential uses of augmented reality (AR) technology are applied to land use and transport planning. The report uses the current example of Christchurch City using AR technology to provide citizens with a visual representation of the Central City Development Plan
6. Electric vehicles
Advances in battery life and increased availability has taken the electric car from obscurity to a viable method of reducing transport-based emissions. The report explores a number of incentives, and improvements that could encourage more citizens to adopt the electric car - such as an increase in public charging points, for instance.
7. Renewable energy and distributed generation
Although 70% of New Zealand’s energy already comes from renewable sources, new innovations such as marine-based generation and biomass are taken into consideration. What is explored in more detail, however, is the idea of distributed generation.
Advances in battery technology mean that the large-scale storage of energy is feasible, and lessens the impact of variability from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The potential for users to “download” energy, and transforming the national grid into a service more akin to the internet, could help manage periods of high-demand for electricity, improve energy security and ultimately reduce costs across the board.
8. Internet of Things
The increasing significance of IoT, and its inevitable implementation, means that it could be particularly useful wherever data monitoring is required. The potential for applications of IoT could range from monitoring the condition of an underground asset to replacing water meters as a demand management tool. The security risks that come with the sheer amount of data that IoT presents is brought up a potential barrier to investigate.
9. Big data
In a similar fashion to the way that IoT will inevitably become a more significant part of our lives, the role of big data reveals questions about how specialised analytical tools, and individuals adequately qualified to interpret and apply this information, will be a greater necessity in the years to come. Environmental monitoring, asset management, and capturing demand and use information will all be improved by the prudent implementation of big data.
10. Cloud computing
The section on cloud computing is more focussed on how more consumers expect services to be available online as standard. The location of providers in other countries could present a problem, however, due to data being subject to the laws in which the service is based. A bilateral agreement with Australia is on the cards, but a safe harbour policy - such as that adopted by the EU - could prove to be the most logical development.
This article was first published in PublicServiceDigital, which is owned by Boilerhouse Media, and is associated with our other titles and platforms including Making a Difference with Data, Health Innovation Monitor and Neighbourhood Planner.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.
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