Public sector has a huge opportunity to lead on AI in 2018

The public sector has the potential to outpace industry this year in the use artificial intelligence, according to one industry expert.

Dave McCann, Canadian cognitive consulting leader with IBM Global Business Services was participating in an AI panel discussion at a recent ITAC federal CIO breakfast. “The public sector trend on AI has shifted in the last six months,” says McCann. “It’s not proof of concept anymore.  It’s getting real.”

McCann says he’s “bullish about the public sector” because there is a “ton of data” that can be analyzed to provide insights on how to improve processes and save money. “It’s not two times the savings they can expect, but more like 15 times,” he says. “Basically, there are use cases for AI everywhere.”

Seize the low hanging fruit

The trend for most organizations is to reduce risk by starting with projects at the lower end of the AI spectrum, such as basic automation, says Rob Rosatelli, senior technology and digital transformation leader at CGI. “There is a tremendous amount of low hanging fruit,” he says. “Execute on those and then use the savings to self-fund a move up the AI value chain toward predictive analytics and machine learning.”

A good way to start is to apply basic robotics to highly repeatable process functions.  Rosatelli cited the example of an organization that reduced its costs by up to 50 per cent by automating 34 back office processes in finance and human resources.

Public sector organizations can also improve efficiency by driving automation in high volume call centres. For example, Rosatelli says a major utility company was successful in adopting chatbots to deal with 80 per cent of routine phone calls. This frees up contact centre agents from answering repetitive questions so they can focus on client issues.

AI can help the public sector deliver better services and value to citizens, says Sergio Ortega Cruz, worldwide government – data and artificial intelligence lead with Microsoft.  Cruz foresees a number of applications in transportation, social services and public safety. He says predictive analytics can be used to show patterns of behaviour allowing governments to determine things like where and when to deploy police officers.

McCann says he also expects to see greater integration of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the public sector in 2018. In the transportation sector, he says IoT cameras are already being deployed on the undercarriage of trains, so that AI can be used to review the images and detect equipment failure before accidents happen.

Get creative

To become a leader in the use of AI, McCann says the public sector must be creative to address challenges such as the need for more flexible contracting and cultural change. He says the shift in the resources required will also be a hurdle for governments. “It’s a misconception that automation will take jobs away,” says McCann. “There will be more jobs, but they will be very different.”

Ron Myers, chief technology officer of Thinking Big, provided some pointers for public sector organizations to get started with AI. The first step is to clearly identify the problem to be solved, he says. The next steps are to: select some technology; collect data; plan training; schedule regular reviews of progress and to test solutions in the current environment.

All of the panelists agreed that the public sector should move quickly to take advantage of AI.  As Cruz put it, “AI is not the future.  It’s here.  It’s not about if, but when and how.”

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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