Powering up the public sector with AI – during the crisis and beyond
Public sector organizations are expected to do more with less and the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating this. To manage this complex, large-scale and urgent problem, organizations will need all the intelligence they can muster, and AI is helping in many ways — but there’s even more it could do.
Public sector organizations around the world have been quick to harness the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve public services. Eighty percent of early adopters are using it (or plan to use it) to improve services, according to Deloitte Insights’ Government Trends 2020 report, and 90 percent think cognitive technologies will be of “extreme strategic importance” for internal processes.
The public sector is embracing AI
The Deloitte report shows that AI is already being applied successfully by public sector organizations around the world. Australia’s Department of Human Services uses an AI-powered chatbot to support case officers; it can answer 85 percent of their questions, helping accelerate service delivery.
In the US, the Chicago Police Department’s predictive analytics unit uses AI to analyze 911 call data to anticipate where and when violent crimes are likely to be committed so they can deploy resources to deter offenders or respond more quickly. And in Pittsburgh, AI-enabled traffic lights have cut journey times by 25 percent and idling time by 40 percent, helping to reduce emissions and ease congestion.
AI is stepping up to the COVID challenge
Researchers at the University of Cambridge are using AI to analyze data from Public Health England to predict demand for intensive care beds and ventilators, according to nonprofit thinktank, PHG Foundation.
And the UK Government has launched an AI-powered WhatsApp chatbot to provide the public with information on Coronavirus. AI is also being used to trawl through vast amounts of published scientific literature to find possible treatments and model the potential effects of drugs on the disease.
AI has its own challenges
But AI is not without challenges of its own. Data ethics and privacy are cited as the main areas of concern by 84 percent of US public sector executives, says the Deloitte Insights report. Around the world, governments are publishing AI policy statements concerning their own use of data and how they will regulate other users.
Public sector managers are also weighing up the implications of AI on their future workforce. They’re looking at the numbers of people and the skills they’re likely to need as it becomes the norm for humans and bots to work side by side.
A natural language AI solution
Whatever the new normal turns out to be, AI will be more integral to how staff work and how citizens interact with public services. Digital assistants and chatbots are likely to become the preferred interface between people (both staff and citizens) and digital technology.
Unit4’s Wanda was the first enterprise digital assistant to come onto the market. Users speak to it in normal everyday language, it understands them and carries out tasks for them. Behind the screen, it’s using AI to harness the organization’s data to perform tasks automatically. It learns from the user’s behavior, noting preferences, recognizing patterns and anticipating needs.
Public sector employees can use Wanda to:
- browse product catalogues and raise purchase requisitions
- submit timesheets automatically based on activity tracking
- raise, approve or deny expense requests
- process and approve workflow tasks
Automating these routine activities improves efficiency in itself, but it also creates a more liberating and empowering People Experience – freeing staff for more satisfying work and dealing with citizens’ needs more quickly.
AI-powered enterprise software
AI is helping in many ways, but there’s more it could do to improve operations, HR and financial management.
Modern, cloud-based, public-sector software platforms like Unit4 ERP help organizations increase operational efficiency, streamline processes and control spending. They improve visibility, helping organizations to respond faster and ensure transparency and accountability to all their stakeholders.
They also improve the experience of work for employees, allowing them to make the most of their talents; and help to give citizens a modern consumer-style experience when they interact with the organization. These systems can also strengthen cyber security and facilitate compliance with data governance policies and regulations.
At a time like this, it’s vital that public sector organizations leverage all the intelligent tools available to manage the crisis – and, in the longer term, equip themselves with the agility they will need to flourish in an unpredictable new normal.