Experts credit our strong economic performance – 26 years of GDP growth without recession – in large part to our strong population growth. But it’s also clear that this trend comes with the price of massively increased strain on our natural resources and human infrastructure. Governments are under pressure to find ways to protect Australia’s enviable economic prosperity and living standards.
To complicate matters further, the Australian population is growing fastest in its urban centres – a trend seen around the globe. The 2016 Census showed that our capital cities are already home to over two-thirds of our population, with 70 per cent of total population growth in 2016-17 concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Our biggest cities face a crisis of unaffordable housing, long commutes, less access to green space and fresh air, and poor access to schools, public transport and hospitals. Can we cope with even more urban growth over the next several decades? While we aren’t necessarily running out of space and resources, it’s now imperative that we use what we have more efficiently.
The goal of smart cities and smart governments is to deliver exactly this kind of efficiency – enabling sustainable growth, increasing resilience in the face of climate change and natural disaster, and streamlining infrastructure to cope with an ever-growing population.
But there’s another imperative for the public sector to embrace innovation. The rise of “digital natives” – tech-savvy millennials used to digital experiences in every aspect of their lives – is increasing demand for intuitive, digital services in areas such as health, public utilities, education and training, recreation and social services.
With nine out of 10 Australians now owning a smartphone, they are becoming the predominant means by which Australians access government services and information. The public sector has little choice but to offer exceptional digital experiences, and do so cost-effectively.
The challenge for governments is to keep up with demand and deliver on already high expectations on technology. Indeed, for the first time, most consumers have access to better technology than employees from public sector organisation and digital natives are growing less tolerant of these ‘old technology’ experiences.
Governments need to be able to do more with less. They can look up to the cloud for cheaper, more efficient ways to serve the growing population but there’s other options such as transferring time consuming communication to emerging chatbot technologies.
Brands such as Oracle are playing a greater role in assisting governments globally to accommodate this surge in citizen needs.
In Las Vegas, for example, the local government is delivering digital citizen services using the Oracle Mobile Application Framework which leverages chatbot technology. Citizens and visitors now have a simple way to interact with the city using their digital devices, while the city has reduced call centre costs.
“Chatbots and other technology using AI [artificial intelligence] can give citizens an effective means of communication and increased engagement with governmental agencies in an ever-connected world,” says Franco Amalfi, Oracle Director of Innovation, Public Sector, North America.
Certainly technologies like these may have application here in Australia also. According to Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation report, 2017, “the Australian and state and territory governments can use their position as some of Australia’s ‘largest firms’ to foster innovation in the private sector and continuously improve citizen experience through new service delivery models.”