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Is the APS Immune from Disruption?

Tom Lynam


Disruptor: “an entity that changes the way an industry or sector operates, especially in a new, more effective and unexpected way. They may create a market where none existed before”

A guide to AgileSHIFT, 2018

Over the last couple of decades there have been a number of notable stories of organisations being disrupted by shifts in technology, business models or circumstance. The most famous of these include the demise of Blockbuster and Kodak. Both who were so certain of the future, failed to see and react in enough time to the ground shifting beneath their feet.

Yet one thing stands out about these disruptor stories, they almost always involve private sector organisations. So, what about the public sector? Is it immune from the threat of disruption?

First let’s take a look at how disrupters operate. Perhaps the simplest way to view disrupters is that they look to take advantage of current inefficiency. This could come in many forms;

  • Inefficient internal processes which enable the disruptor to offer the same service better and for a lower cost – think pretty much every organisation which has operated for over 20 years
  • Inefficient business models which allow a disruptor to cut costs for the customer while still providing the core service – think budget airlines impacting air travel
  • Inefficient customer experiences which enable the disruptor to offer a new or different experience which is more popular – think streaming services replacing renting of physical media.

Technology has lowered the barrier to entry for many organisations, or indeed individuals to take advantage of these inefficiencies, easily enter new markets, test ideas and quickly scale if successful. Today brand loyalty means little in the face of online reviews and social media.   

Yet for the public sector many of these services cannot (or there is not a political desire to) be undertaken by another entity. They can’t be replaced. let alone disrupted, and despite inefficiencies that exist will continue to operate as they were.

Yet isn’t this akin to what Kodak and Blockbuster thought?

If we look at most modern governments they are and have been transforming the way in which they operate, and the services they offer to their respective public's for a number of years now. Part of this is undoubtedly governments’ innate requirement to deliver the best possible services to the public as part of their election mandates. But, I believe another big part can be attributed to equipping themselves to improve resilience to disruption and building capability to adapt to change.

A 2016 study by Deloitte and Oxford University found that up to 850,000 jobs in the United Kingdom’s public sector could be lost as a result of automation by 2030. This covered administrative roles as well as jobs for teachers and police officers. It might seem like an extreme example, but Hollywood has had robot police for some time now and it is funny how prophetic the film industry can sometimes be. Here disruption simply isn’t about a private organisation being able to offer a cheaper service than its public sector equivalent, it’s about fundamentally shifting functions and roles of an organisation.

The APS is no different, and recent rhetoric from the government is pointing towards a shift towards improved services and a move to a more modern government. I cannot claim to accurately predict where the disruption will come from or what it will look like, but I am fairly certain that in the coming years we will see fundamental shifts in how both the public and private sectors operate.

The important thing to remember; never assume you are immune from disruption, ensure you are equipped to adapt, and see change as an opportunity.

PS. For those of you unsure what AgileSHIFT is, it’s the latest best practice guidance from AXELOS and helps an organisation create a culture of organisational agility. You can read more about it here.

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