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Embrace digitalisation or risk governing a fractured society, says Gartner

Gartner is speculating digitilisation could potentially replace or improve public sector services, but could create a gap between those who can afford to use it and those who can't.

Peter Sondergaard, Gartner’s worldwide head of research, says that alternative services, provided by private business, may only be available to, or chosen by, higher-income families, especially in the transport sector.

He says that digitalisation may lead to transportation as service for some, but not all.

Born-digital services such as Uber, Lyft and Zipcar have captured the imagination of consumers in an increasingly sharing-based economy, creating a significant change in the usage of, and spending on, transportation in urban areas. They are augmenting public services, leading to what could be described as ‘transportation as a service.’ takes this concept several steps further by providing shared rides between cities in several European countries, replacing mass public transportation.

These services are only available to the digital consumer, excluding those without access to smart devices. Sondergaard questions if transportation as a service will deprive public services of funding to the point where they are no longer sustainable.

“Transportation as a service undeniably increases the choices available to digital consumers,” he says. “But is this simply another step in the already long journey of privatisation that we have taken? Or can the public sector compete — and thrive — by leveraging digitalisation to transform the efficiency, service and cost of the transport it provides to offer new options that are fit for purpose in the new digital industrial economy?”

Sondergaard proposed other areas of public sector services that could be replaced or radically augmented by digitalised services, such as robots that care for the elderly in retirement, communities ‘policed’ by smart surveillance devices and drones, or education that is delivered in-home via devices and supported by communities based on topic, not geography.

Sondergaard says if these services were delivered at a price point far lower than services provided by the public sector, the public sector may deteriorate. “In some countries, these examples don’t sound farfetched at all. In fact, they are either here already or on the verge of adoption”, he says.

The ability to provide a service at scale is increasing in the digital economy, and digital consumers are increasingly able to use these services, provided they have the financial means. “Alternative services to those provided by the public sector will be increasingly available to a larger number of people who can pay, leaving a less-than-certain future for the services provided by governments for those who cannot,” Sondergaard says.

He says a greater level of service could be made available to everyone with private services offering services at a lower price point than public services.

Sondergaard says this shift could happen quickly due to the accelerating digitalisation of businesses, a rapid increase in sophistication of the digital consumer and the compounding likely, slower digitalisation of the public sector.

“Digitalisation will place huge pressure on governments and leaders in the public sector to change faster than at any other time in modern history. Politicians and civil service leaders must face the inevitable; embrace digitalisation or risk governing an increasingly fractured society”.

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