Over the last 20 years, the ongoing digital revolution has brought massive changes to the way most of us work and live. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will offer even faster and deeper change. Forward-looking government leaders are acting now to prepare public sector organizations to fulfill of the full promise of AI. They are blazing a trail for AI to free up their employees and serve citizens more effectively.
AI is affordable, doable and available
AI is on track to make a bigger impact on business and society than any previous technology. Deliveries by robots, driverless cars and virtual assistants are becoming commonplace demonstrations of AI playing a role in everyday life. Indeed, AI has the ability to make connections, see relationships and take actions quicker and more efficiently than technologies or people-based processes of the past.
We are on the cusp of bigger changes from AI, as data mining and integration combined with machine learning will foster redesign of organizational operating models and processes in government and business alike. Research firm IDC predicts that the market for AI systems will nearly quadruple over the next few years, from $12.5 billion today to $46 billion in 2020. Virtual customer services will likely see the fastest initial growth; IDC projects spending of $1.1 billion in 2016, growing to $6.1 billion by 2021.
Early adopters in the public sector are beginning to demonstrate the value AI can offer for citizen services. The state of Maryland has deployed an AI traffic system that is projected to reduce commute time for 700,000 drivers by 15 percent. My own city, Atlanta, is exploring using an AI chatbot to expand capabilities for non-emergency citizen service requests. Detroit’s Police Department is integrating AI facial recognition into its video monitoring program to help investigate and reduce violent crimes.
At the federal level, many agencies are beginning to deploy AI-powered interfaces for customer service. For example, AI saves time and resources in the federal regulatory process by helping speed the public comment process. And there is growing recognition that AI can help improve the taxpayer experience, strengthening compliance, reducing fraud and delivering personalized services. In fact, recent Accenture global revenue research shows that more than 40 percent of taxpayers reported making a filing error in the last 24 months, with nearly 70 percent of taxpayers saying that they would use AI to improve the accuracy of their tax filings.
Beyond these government-driven AI efforts, businesses and nonprofits are joining forces to drive humanitarian AI initiatives. For example, at Accenture we are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to leverage identity management services and biometric data systems, providing often undocumented and destitute refugees with a permanent personal identity record. In India, we collaborated with the National Association for the Blind to develop an AI-powered tool, DRISHTI, which uses smart phone-based capabilities to help the visually impaired identify objects and navigate their surroundings. In the UK, we are working on a pilot project deploying AI capabilities to extend independent elderly living possibilities.
The possibilities are real and endless, and what were merely interesting theoretical concepts in the past are today in-practice solutions.
Public sector AI playbook
AI is going to become increasingly widespread over the next few years and will drive significant innovation across all industries and government. With demand for public services continually growing and budgets always stretched, there will be a wide array of rising AI opportunities for government to transform outdated organizational models, rethink core operations and reshape citizens’ customer experience.
The technology foundations of AI—low-cost cloud services, connected and sensing devices (the Internet of Things), machine-learning algorithms and data analytics—are growing and improving swiftly. Governments have traditionally moved to new technologies both rapidly and cautiously at times, and AI’s potential benefits for citizens create a compelling platform to move at a brisk pace.
Government leaders can start by building solid foundations and a strategic framework to support the massive culture shift necessary to rethink and remake citizen services in the AI era. While doing so, they should keep five critical elements in mind:
- Put humans at the center. Start with an ethical, compliant and responsible design that centers around people: citizens/customers and workers.
- Focus on data. AI is built on data, and every government organization is data rich. Government leaders are already actively working to capture, assess, and protect data. They can and should be exploring new ways to analyze, integrate and share data to fuel program innovations and service redesign. Data privacy concerns and perceptions, and their relation to government’s ability to deliver the types of modern personalized digital experiences that citizens expect, are an additional aspect demanding attention.
- Rethink the work, considering humans and machines. The workforce agenda is multifaceted. Public sector organizations already recognize the need to compete energetically for new talent and to upskill and inspire existing employees. Likewise, they can begin to work on AI ethics codes and plans to integrate human intelligence with AI by reconstructing work responsibilities.
- Reimagine organizational models and processes. Reshaping how work is done is central to achieving transformational change from AI. Internal capabilities in areas such as planning, customer service, HR, finance and procurement will need fine-tuning—and for many organizations, overhauling—to move to the more nimble, adaptive, insight-driven approaches necessary to test and adopt AI and use it to improve public service outcomes.
- Consider a pilot. Think big, start small. Be bold with the vision, pragmatic with the implementation plan. Champion a relatively modest, self-contained project and use the principles of agile IT delivery to enable the development of AI and other digital initiatives.
- There are extraordinary opportunities for government leaders to pave the way to embrace AI more broadly. Many are already making progress. AI can simplify processes and deliver big gains for citizens, and today’s public leaders must play a central role orchestrating how fast and effectively AI will improve the way the world lives and works.
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