Big changes lie ahead … best to watch them carefully

America’s shifting social, political, economic, and environmental conditions have created rapid change. Leaders in industry and government are scrambling to respond. Their immediate focus appears to be on worker shortages, increasing costs, supply chain disruptions, and public safety but those issues are only at the top of an issues iceberg that looms large.

In 2021, more than 47 million Americans quit their jobs. That mass exodus, evidenced by data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has created an historic occurrence labeled the ‘Great Resignation.’ The current flight from jobs now tops all resignation records in years past, and the ramifications are great.

Trying to find new workers while dealing with escalating costs is stressful of course, but there’s more! Government leaders also are dealing with public unrest, the ramifications of climate change, political discontent, homeless citizens, health-care needs, public safety, critical infrastructure problems, and increased citizen expectations. When studying the trends and analyzing future winners and losers, it appears that technology services and products are certain to be in the winners’ category. Jobs and career opportunities will likely fall into the loser category as individual workers are replaced by technology.

There are strong demands for cost cutting, resource reductions, online services, increased communication, and more connectivity. Automation and technology offer attractive solutions.

In the years to come, history will record how these issues changed the workplace and the country’s economy. It will also gauge the impacts on the well-being of citizens and companies. Here are some examples of what governmental entities are doing to cope.

The state of Louisiana plans to automate parts of its public safety protocol in response to staffing shortages. The state’s upcoming fiscal budget includes a new multi-million-dollar project to automate the state’s criminal record expungement process, thereby reducing significant categories of work. The project will reduce the volume of legal clutter in court systems while reducing a reliance on people. The state’s anticipated gap between revenue and expenses has caused legislators to anticipate a $420 million cut in funding that would have been allocated for universities, health care, and prisons. It can be assumed that technology and automation will likely play a large role in coping with reduced budgets in these areas.

The state of Michigan is planning a one-time allocation of $30 million in 2023 for an electronic prisoner-staff communications system that will move the state away from a manual process that requires require workers. The new technology will handle personal communications between prisoners and custody staff members for tasks such as grievance reporting, banking transactions, medical issues, and prescription refills. It will significantly reduce the number of employees that handled communication and outreach in the past.

Arizona’s Department of Water Resources will deploy automated groundwater monitoring technology. Once installed, the technology will provide ongoing monitoring of water quality, a task that was routinely handled by staff.

Officials in Manhattan Beach, California, will invest in technology to improve public safety because of limited staffing capacity. Following last year’s 16-year high in traffic related fatalities, the city will construct a fiber network to support the implementation of a semi-automated traffic management technology. The new system will provide traffic signalization and reduce the need for human oversight. That project is scheduled to enter construction in January 2023.

The city of Knoxville will automate its contracting processes within its department of finance to address strain created by staffing shortages. Officials at the city of Columbus will spend $31.9 million on an automatic meter reading project that has in the past required individuals to handle the data.

Arlington County officials plan to fund and ongoing monitoring water infrastructure project that will reduce staff. Howard County officials also will purchase technology to process and handle cloud-generated data from a geodetic network. In the past, field crews gathered survey data.

Officials in Williamsburg, Virginia, have allocated funding for an automatic license plate reader system. The technology will decrease the number of hours a detective or investigator would normally spend in surveillance. The $250,000 system has a project launch date in 2023.

City officials in Beverly Hills, California approved funding for automation that will add 16 automated alert notification systems and reduce individual dispatch operators in the police department. Also included in the budget is funding for an expanded drone surveillance program that will reduce the number of employees who have been handling the surveillance.

Drone technology also is being used to cut costs and reduce the need for people responsible for safety oversight on road construction projects. The technology can save 88 percent of the time and 74 percent of the cost that would be required for manual infrastructure inspections. Because of those savings, the federal government has launched a new program that will allocate $50 million in funding over the next two years to support wider deployment of drone technology.

Robotics automation processes (RPA) is becoming common in both the public and private sectors as another technology capable of reducing resources and cutting costs. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are other technologies that are now considered mainstream. Sensors have become prevalent in Smart City ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) projects. Apps of all types provide citizens quicker ways to interact with public entities without human intervention. The shift to technology is rampant.

Change should be observed, especially significant change. It is incumbent on us all to be watchful. This is a time of rampant and rapid transformation in America.