My latest book: ‘AI and the Future of the Public Sector’.

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Tony Boobier
by Tony Boobier

On the 18th August my 4th book will be published. Like all books, it has a Beginning, a Middle and an End.

By way of introduction, it was mainly written during the Pandemic and will be published at a time when there is significant financial pressure on the Public Sector. This is because of the enormous amounts of money ploughed into economies to keep countries ‘afloat’. In the UK alone, current estimates range from £310£410 billion. That’s the equivalent of £4,600£6,100 per person. According to data, the US federal government have spent US$ 1.02 trillion. Other countries are bound to be similarly affected.

There are big bills to be paid, and the money will need to be found from somewhere. Savings in the Public Sector are inevitable through reductions in services but also through headcount cutbacks. In the UK (for example), current proposed wage increases below the rate of inflation will only add fuel to the fire.

 The Beginning. I’d been influenced by topical issues such as health service delays, how elderly parents of friends had coped (especially those with dementia), and matters of policing, border control, education, transportation, and all the rest. In fact, everywhere I looked it seemed that the public sector was under one form of pressure or another. I wondered if technology could be one of the answers?

In January 2020 the first cases of Covid 19 were discovered outside of China. Being stuck indoors and restricted from travelling gave space for thought. I submitted a proposal to my publisher and was given the ‘green light’ by my Commissioning Editor to start writing, against a backdrop of more lockdowns and yet even greater pressures on the sector. Who really knew then that the problems would run through 2021 and into 2022?

The Middle Bit. There were lots of things to consider in ‘the middle’, not least the problem of whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. I realised that this wasn’t just a technology issue but also a morality and data privacy issue. How would the citizen react to these changes? The essential technologies? 5G, 6G, cloud, chatbots are all vital components which needed to be covered, but there are also significant security issues to worry about as well.

I hadn’t fully understood the scale and breadth of the public sector, representing over 15% of the workforce in most countries, in some places even higher. Beyond this, I wanted to consider issues of implementation rather than simply adopt a theoretical approach. The different dynamics of the public sector forced me to rethink my ideas expressed in my earlier books. What was the impact of worker representation?

Lack of face to face access because of lockdown and home working also hampered my progress. Zoom and other approaches failed to effectively replace sitting over a coffee and mulling ideas. Homeworking had become the new zeitgeist. The internet became my best research partner.

The End. ‘The end’ of any book is always a bit frustrating, as it invariably involves editing and tidying up, but it’s essential part. A book not only has to be informative but be a thing of both correctness and beauty.

The virus has left a cost legacy, and future Covid variants may yet still pile on the pressure. How bills will be paid is likely to be an ongoing problem, and if AI is the solution, then it won’t be an overnight panacea. However perhaps it does provide one way of maintaining some modicum of public services at potentially lower cost?

I finished with an Epilog. Perhaps the threat of AI alone may provide a stimulus to change? There is a major potential roadblock in terms of available resources, and if there is a shortage of talented people, will they all get taken by the private sector?  If so, how will this ultimately change the wider public sector operating model? There’s lots to ideas to ponder but the book, like this blog, must inevitably come to an end.

On the other hand, I’m sure that this is a story that will run and run.

Tony Boobier