Could the public sector ever deploy systems so good they actually make people want to work for it? Business already has. This is what counts.
Ask any senior leader in any part of the public sector what they need to perform better as an organisation and — sufficient funding fantasies not included — they will talk about skills.
Not just competency, but the right mix of modern proficiency, passion and initiative to drive transformational change and deliver on increasingly ambitious change and reform projects.
Today, competition for the ‘smart’ generation of digitally savvy recruits across public and private sectors is intensifying. Plugged-in prospects now choose their employers instead of organisations just taking their pick.
But where the workforce disruption can hit hardest is a shift in demographics that can leave agencies struggling to meet contemporary expectations, often because of outmoded technology and ways of working.
To keep pace, departments need to think and act differently to stay in the game as an employer of choice.
Productivity: stealing a march
Big tech companies haven’t just changed the world and work through their products and services; increasingly the current and coming generation of staff have their expectations of work set by what they see happening at the world’s biggest companies.
It’s a lot more than brightly coloured beanbags, ping pong tables and Post-it notes.
The most competent and employable workers demand flexibility and tech-enabled workplaces where they can collaborate through digital tools in the same way they use consumer technology in their personal lives.
Spark of joy
Cisco’s Australian director of collaboration, Vaughan Klein, says his company’s Cisco Spark suite of applications, which enables teams to work virtually together, is central to making the dreams of a fluid workplace a reality.
Cisco Spark combines seamless file sharing, collaboration and messaging with market-leading video, in a way that means staff are virtually together, wherever they happen to be and can work together without incompatible tech intervening.
Tools like Cisco Spark Board mean ‘meeting’ rooms can become instant and secure collaboration spaces by fusing together interactive ‘touchable’ and ‘drawable’ whiteboards, video, audio, identity management and apps for participants — whether they’re in the room or attending virtually.
Klein says it’s the use of instant messaging in the Cisco Spark suite, which mirrors the experience of popular consumer apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which changes the dynamic of workplace engagement.
“With younger professionals we have been looking at email, and they just don’t want to use it … if you ask a university student when they last checked their email, they will tell you they haven’t looked in a year,” Klein says.
“Communication has moved on to persistent messaging applications, and with Cisco Spark you can incorporate them in a way that works for the users and fits the requirements of government business.”
Shift in the Service
Late last year the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service census of workers showed just how wholeheartedly public servants want to embrace the new era of mobile working and virtual teams.
It found that 63% of staff work outside the ACT and 91% of agencies are employing an approach to promote employee mobility.
The report found that the nature of work is being transformed, with an increasing number of skilled staff favouring the approach of the “gig economy,” popularised by services like Airtasker, where they will work like old style contractors within the agency frameworks.
Free range bureaucracy
These staff now work alongside traditionally employed professionals as well as an increasing number of ambitious full time workers, keen to take advantage of initiatives like Operation Free Range.
This recent and deliberately promoted government initiative encourages public servants to move between agencies to harness talent and break a sense of “career cage,” whereby 80% of Australian Public Service employees have only ever worked for one agency.
Yet for all the good intentions the APS is still seeking the missing piece of the tech puzzle to really execute on its plans.
Workers still feel constrained by rigid technology systems and business processes, while forward-looking and innovative programs can sometimes struggle to break through the morass of unproductive meetings and committees.
Conquering the distribution dilemma
Centralised or decentralised, the machinery of government always evolves to reflect the policies of the government of the day.
What’s also become starkly apparent is the increased pressure from the public (and policymakers) for agency responses to be faster, more flexible and for services to go more directly out to people — rather than people standing in line or hanging on hold.
Today, the ability to form teams, deliver projects and respond to community demands —where and as they arise — is now largely underpinned by seamless, secure and scalable communications and productivity technology to make services happen as they need to.
For the people, with the people
Whether its restoring essential state government services in flood or fire affected communities, day-to-day health outreach or regional consultation and development — all need to be able to assemble teams quickly and effectively to deliver.
Public sector workspaces don’t just need to be smart and connected, they equally need to be adaptable, interoperable and mobile to cater for a variety of demands as they arise.
That makes rapid access to the government’s infrastructure or cloud of choice — which can be enabled by highly secure and flexible platforms like Cisco’s Spark suite and protected by its world leading intuitive network — an immediate imperative rather than a desired end-state.
Making capacity count
Flexible, productive and secure digital workspaces don’t just offer better services and the opportunity to attract and keep smart and productive staff. There’s a major efficiency dividend in property and office space utilisation too.
Federal initiatives like Operation Tetris have delivered savings of more than $200 million in savings through reducing vacant government office space holdings and have now been expanded out from Canberra to a national footing.
In NSW, the state government is already actively prioritising premises that can accommodate more modern and flexible workspace technologies by design to maximise productivity and value and letting go of legacy fit outs.
For many more mobile public servants, that can be as simple as being able to access an appropriately secure workspace from a dynamic pool rather than having desks or floors of offices languish empty for months or more at a time.
Security a complement, not competitor
Klein frankly recognises that as desirable as workspace flexibility is, the security requirements of government can make or break initiatives and not all popular solutions will cut it.
Unlike many popular consumer apps, Cisco’s Spark platform allows agencies to retain complete control of their messaging, while end-to-end encryption makes communication as secure as possible.
Because Cisco Spark also delivers the flexibility and functionality that digital workers want, it can help spearhead an array of strategies to improve both recruitment and retention of talent, helping to minimise dissatisfaction with legacy practices and ossified processes.
Power of persistence
With persistent messaging now increasingly normalised, it’s important to get the mix of tools right.
“Good collaboration is like a balanced diet. Email and those traditional systems are like junk calories in your diet that slow you down,” Klein says.
“It is unhealthy for your organisation, whereas applications and capabilities like Cisco Spark can be the fruit and vegetables. It is going to give you agility, energy and the speed that you really need.”
Harnessing that speed and energy could just be the confidence boost government needs to up delivery and satisfaction levels.