The times they are a-changin' - and they’re moving at a pace we’ve never experienced before. As the world become increasingly digitised, there’s far-reaching impact on how we live, work and play. 

We’ve previously pondered the impact of digital disruption on the transport, healthcare and finance sectors, and our most recent YOLK event brought together some of the key players from WA state government and supporting agencies to discuss how they’re harnessing disruptive technologies to improve the quality of life of all West Australians.

It’s a pivotal time for shaping the future of WA, with 2017 signalling a change in government, a new state budget, and a more focused ICT and community-first agenda. So what is the state of the state? Read on to find out.

Preparing for the future of work 

It’s true that technology is killing jobs - a 2016 CSIRO report estimated that 44 percent of jobs in Australia are at high risk from computerisation and automation. But technology is also creating economic opportunities, with an estimated 81,000 new ICT professionals needed by 2022 to fuel future technology-led growth. There’s both opportunity and risk on the horizon. 

As a result of the evolving job markets, some of our top priorities must be reskilling / upskilling our workforce in at-risk jobs and industries, and preparing the next generation of workers to harness tomorrow’s opportunities. 

Transforming the Australian economy from mining and resource-based to innovation and knowledge-driven is no small feat, and the challenge is exacerbated by declining interest in STEM. Today, 11% fewer year 12 students study maths than in 1992 and there’s been a 35% drop in IT-related university enrolments since 2001. 

So which way forward?

Our methods of teaching haven’t changed much since the industrial revolution and they fail to engage many learners. We must reimagine the learning experience to make it more engaging, more accessible and more relevant to people of all ages and backgrounds.

It’s also imperative we find a way to cut through and reignite interest in not just STEM but STEAM (which includes arts) across all ages and genders. If we can do it well, WA could position itself as the STEAM engine of Australia. Hell, we’ve got one of the world’s largest science projects in our backyard that we really ought to be driving more interest and excitement. 

Artist's impression of ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory by CSIRO.

Improving access to services, records and data

Another key area government is grappling with in this age of digitisation and changing consumer demands is in providing digital access to a range of services, personal records and public data. This involves unpacking a few different layers. 

Firstly, connectivity is critical and we’re lagging behind. Perth has some of the slowest internet speeds in Australia, which is all the more troubling given that Australia ranks 56th in the world. For those living in remote parts of the state, connectivity is such that watching a YouTube video remains a vision of the future. 

The ultimate vision for digital government services is that West Australians can log into a single portal and see a real-time dashboard of all the government services they access. This requires the population to have a digital identity that verifies who they are and connects to the services they use. While this isn’t particularly difficult in a technical sense, it’s incredibly challenging in terms of the business processes and change management necessary to implement it. 

Interestingly, banks are struggling with a similar challenge as the popularity of online banking has meant they often no longer get the opportunity to meet their customers in person and capture a visual identity. This certainly paves the way for consideration of how government, banks and private business could potentially share data to capture and maintain complete digital identities. Of course the very suggestion of such a thing can send privacy proponents into a tailspin. 

What about blockchain?

No discussion of digital disruption is complete without the obligatory mention of blockchain. But putting buzzwords aside, there are some interesting ideas for how the technology can be applied within the realm of government. 

Because of its manual nature, as well as the high potential for error and fraud, land titling and registration is an area where blockchain is getting good interest. The Republic of Georgia, Sweden and Kenya are all implementing blockchain-based titling systems. Sweden is relatively advanced in its implementation and estimates have shown it could save its taxpayers over €100 million a year by accelerating transactions, eliminating paperwork and reducing fraud. 

Success stories from places like Sweden will no doubt help pave the way for blockchain titling in other OECD countries, but for WA the credibility is more likely to come from within our country’s borders. And with the ASX poised to replace its trading platform with one that uses blockchain-esque distributed ledger technology, that validation might not be as far away as we think. 

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