07 Aug Future in work?!
Research: how digital technology changes and eliminates administrative tasks (in municipalities)
* In 2030, there will be no more administrative work.
* In 2030 we will no longer have any vocational education for e.g. administrative assistant or accountant.
Municipalities in transition
Municipal organisations are changing a lot: society has a different view of the municipal government, expectations are different (e.g. citizens have become customers); a number of government tasks have been assigned to municipalities (Wmo, Participation Act and Youth Act), that had to organise themselves in this new way, while the context is also changing rapidly and the legal status of civil servants is also being ‘normalised’. Digital technology is also being used to improve the municipalities’ ability to carry out these new roles and tasks properly and efficiently.
Digital technology at the work process ‘Information Management & Archive’
I am curious about what happens to administrative work in an organisation when digital technology is introduced (again). That’s why I interviewed 31 people who have an insight into the municipal work process ‘Information Management & Archive’ (IBA). This process includes administrative staff, DIV advisors, registrars, Information Management staff and archivists. This process is changing from the emphasis on archiving to information management. Digital technology in this process takes the form of a Document Management System or Adaptive Case System. These are systems with which (information about) electronic documents that are used in the organisation can be forwarded, managed and stored. These systems are, as it were, the vital vein of a (municipal) organisation.
Three effects of the technology stand out:
The new technology is leading to a lot of change in tasks, the interviewees say. Tasks change, lapse or new ones emerge. Routine tasks (e.g. scanning and manually registering mail, copying mutations), lend themselves well to being described in process steps. Because these steps can then be translated into algorithms that control the computer, routine work disappears first when digital technology is used. Work in the IBA work process that meets these characteristics has sometimes already been discontinued or will be discontinued by a new system. Sometimes an entire set of tasks, a job, ‘evaporates’ as a result. These effects relate to more than 100,000 functions within municipalities.
Other skills are needed
Also, as a result of the ‘de-routinisation’ of tasks, tasks that remain require more social, more IT and more abstract thinking competencies. That’s what the theory says, but it’s also reflected in the IBA work process. Tasks have been ITized; required competencies have become more social and strategic in nature and the required level of education has risen sharply.
“ICT has become dominant in the administrative functions.”
Outsourcing is facilitated
In addition, the introduction of digital technology creates a moment when a choice can be made to outsource tasks. After all, the processes have been neatly analysed and described because that is what the new system requires. The executive ICT staff and the field staff (positions with a relatively low level of education and salary) were outsourced and the monitoring or steering role (less work and with a higher level of education and salary), remained or joined the municipality. This reinforces the trend towards more jobs with a higher training requirement (and salary) and fewer executive jobs (with lower training and salary levels).
“You can see that the number of higher educated people in municipalities is increasing.”
My findings for the IBA work process are in line with views in the literature on the effects of digital technology. Two well-known explanatory phenomena are Skill-Biased Technological Change (SBTC) and Routine-Biased Technological Change (RBTC). These are views whose core is that digital technology increases the required level of education and will replace routine work.
This is not an inevitable course of events. Both a (municipal) organization and an employee can do something in this situation. What exactly these actions can be and also what effective interventions are already taking place, is part of my further research.
That’s why it’s wise to know what’s going on. Being aware of the fact that these shifts in administrative work are taking place is a prerequisite. Only then will there be a future in work.
* In 2030 administrative work will no longer exist. Interesting new work has been created in which you work a lot with computers.
* In 2030, we will no longer have any vocational education for e.g. administrative assistant or accountant. All courses are strongly ITised: whether it’s about business, games, education, language, assistance, creativity, food or engineering, everything will have a solid IT component.