Senior public servants say APS unprepared for tech advances: survey
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Senior public servants say APS unprepared for tech advances: survey

The Australian public service is least prepared for technological advances including the rise of artificial intelligence, the uptake of robotics and automation, and the rise of global tech giants, a survey of senior public servants has found.

The public service is also most unprepared for the workforce shifting to new skill-sets and the growing distrust of government and demand for transparency.

David Thodey's APS review panel has been told which trends the public service is least prepared for.

David Thodey's APS review panel has been told which trends the public service is least prepared for.Credit:Daniel Munoz

The survey of 2756 staff from EL2 level to SES in the 82 departments and agencies was produced by Boston Consulting Group as part of research to inform the independent review of the APS.

Senior public servants were asked to rate how much impact a series of "mega-trends" would have on the public service in 2030, as well as how prepared the sector was to deal with the trends.

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"Most of the advancement of technology mega-trends were seen to have a great impact whilst being what the APS were least prepared for," the report said.

The trends that would have the most impact were listed as financial pressure to do more with less, cybersecurity risks, the data-driven world, increased citizen expectations and the continued demand for digital government.

"Cybersecurity risks means that the work and reputation of the APS can be threatened too readily," one EL2 told the survey.

"Failures by agencies to protect public data could see withdrawal of public support for increased automated services," an SES band 1 said.

"It will be the pace of the impacts and our inability to respond in a timely way that is our greatest challenge," another EL2 said.

For most trends, more senior respondents said the public service would experience higher impacts than their more junior colleagues, while people who work in particular areas tended to rate impacts associated with their line of work to be of higher impact than others.

The report also showed differences between the way staff in Canberra recognised impacts to the APS compared to staff elsewhere. Staff in Canberra tended to rate technology trends as having a lower impact than their interstate colleagues. Canberran public servants rated the impacts of societal and geopolitical shifts and the impact of rising Asian countries higher than those outside the capital.

"Non-ACT respondents are more likely to be in roles that are related to service delivery and will be obviously impacted by advances in technology," the report said.

The consultants have used the survey to identify four possible scenarios the public service could face in 2030, including a world where the use breakthrough technologies has accelerated, a world where local institutions become more relevant, a world where trust in the public service has fallen significantly, and a world instability, trade wars and protectionism dominate.

A list of broad recommendations and requirements for success was developed to ensure the public service could be prepared for any or all of the scenarios.

The report recommended that the review team undertake "detailed gap analysis" to understand where the public service is falling behind in addressing issues that will be faced in the future.

It also recommended action plans to be developed for the scenarios it described and for any recommendations from the APS review panel to be tested against the scenarios in the research.

The APS review is due to report back to government in the middle of 2019.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

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