Many Public Sector organizations I work with have a common challenge: how can we do more with less?
Tight budgets have always been a reality for governments and publicly-supported healthcare and education institutions. As we collectively deal with the far-reaching impact of the pandemic, there’s even more of a squeeze on resources as these organizations look to ensure continuity of frontline service delivery and navigate the new realities of hybrid working.
Technology has a critical role to play here. I’ve seen firsthand the transformative benefits that innovations like the cloud and AI can have in helping companies and organizations improve their products and services and drive greater efficiencies. Research we conducted with EY earlier this year suggests that the Public Sector in Western Europe is on the verge of an AI revolution.
The clear majority (67%) of public organizations have deployed AI for at least one use-case scenario. Further, 65% view AI as an important ‘digital’ priority.
As most organizations are still early on in their journey – only 4% indicated that they have successfully scaled AI to achieve a compelling outcome – it’s safe to say we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us!
Drawing from this research, and from my conversations with partners and customers, I wanted to offer some guidance to organizations looking to scale their AI usage to drive efficiencies and improve frontline services.
Take a human-centric approach
AI can enable every organization to benefit from increased operational efficiencies, such as AI-powered tools that assist with handling some of an organization’s simple, more repetitive tasks. But the greatest value comes when AI is used to innovate and enhance core products, services and customer experiences – and when it is designed to augment people, not replace them.
A great example comes from Emergency Medical Services Copenhagen. To better cope with the strain caused by COVID-19, the organization deployed a healthcare bot to efficiently and effectively respond to all first-line inquiries. The bot handled 30,000 calls on its first day – helping patients more quickly get the right care. What’s more, it freed up precious staff time – lightening the burden on clinicians and letting them allocate more time to the most in-need patients.
Emergency Medical Services Copenhagen deployed an AI-powered bot to help handle and direct the thousands of calls the hospital was receiving at the height of the pandemic.
AI also offers the ability to crunch huge data sets and produce actionable, predictive insights. Organizations that are most successful at unlocking AI’s potential recognize that these data-driven insights deliver the most impact when coupled with human judgement, creativity, empathy and experience. As such, final decision-making should always involve people, and not be handled by algorithms alone.
Commit to using AI ethically
Successfully deploying AI to transform your organization has as much to do with people as it does with technology. People will not embrace technology they don’t trust. It’s as simple as that.
Organizations that do best at building and maintaining trust with their employees, and the people they serve, make clear long-term commitments to using AI in an ethical way. This means staying vigilant about identifying and mitigating bias so that every person and every situation is treated in a fair, equal manner.
This can seem like a daunting challenge for many organizations, but it’s particularly sensitive for those in the Public Sector as they are charged with making decisions that often directly affect the wellbeing of citizens. For example, local governments might use AI to assist in identifying vulnerable people most in need of support from social services. The stakes couldn’t be higher to ensure that AI-powered technology is fair in how it assesses each individual’s circumstances.
Having clear guidance and transparent processes to address these sorts of ethical questions builds confidence in, and encourages the uptake of, AI-powered systems. It’s why we’ve developed additional guidance on responsible AI design and use, which can be found here.
At the most fundamental level, the insights AI produces are only as accurate, fair and inclusive as the data it is fed. Good data management is certainly about eliminating information silos within an organization. There’s also a significant human component here: people need to understand their roles and responsibilities in handling data and understand why data management is so important.
Three key learnings from Public Sector AI leaders:
- Develop a robust approach to data management, establishing a clear setup to ensure reliable, accurate and valid data.
- Increase access to multiple data sources through data-sharing initiatives.
- Define clear roles and responsibilities for employees and provide proper training for AI solutions.
Collaborate with innovation partners
Across the private sector, the majority of companies that have successfully transformed have not done so alone. Typically, they work with a larger ecosystem of trusted partners to ensure they are getting not only the technology, but also access to the skills, best practices and support needed to ensure their investments yield the greatest business value.
For those operating within the highly regulated Public Sector, the need for cross-sector collaboration is all the greater still. Innovation hubs and Centers of Excellence – from both academia and the private sector – can be vital sources of insights around innovation and best practices.
Forging alliances with peer organizations in other nations can be another powerful way to drive innovation. For example, the Nordic Interoperability Project works on standardizing data technology sharing agreements between four Nordic countries. The ability to safely and securely examine larger sets of patient data will allow the participating healthcare providers to improve care and boost efficiencies.
Success is not just about doing more, it’s about doing more sustainably
As organizations use technology to improve frontline services, there’s a real opportunity to look at not only how to improve the speed and quality of the services themselves, but to ensure they’re delivered more sustainably.
Earlier this year the European Commission released a white paper that succinctly summarized the opportunity: “The use of AI systems can have a significant role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and in supporting the democratic process and social rights. With its recent proposals on the European Green Deal, Europe is leading the way in tackling climate and environmental-related challenges. Digital technologies such as AI are a critical enabler for attaining the goals of the Green Deal.”
A great example comes from Vinnova, the Swedish government agency that administers state funding for research and development. One of its initiatives involves capturing traffic data and then combining it with weather and other city data. AI-powered tools then crunch that information and make recommendations around infrastructure improvements that can decrease traffic congestion and reduce carbon emissions.
“Internally we expect that AI can increase our efficiency, but we also expect that it can be highly important to solve broader societal issues such as the environment.” – Daniel Rencrantz, Head of the Innovation Management Division, Vinnova
AI has the power to transform and improve the lives of citizens across the region. For Public Sector organizations looking to bring its promise to fruition, it is important to recognize AI as a human endeavor. Oftentimes it’s helpful to put technology to the side at first and start by looking broadly at the ways you can improve the lives of your staff and the communities you serve. Then, consider how technology can help you get there. And right from the beginning of your journey, look beyond the ‘walls’ of your organization. Successful transformation is all about forging strong, trusted partnerships, and at Microsoft, we’re committed to working with Public Sector organizations all across the region to bring the significant benefits of AI to bear for all citizens.
For more information on unlocking AI’s potential in the Public Sector, please take a look at the full research report here.
And for insights around cultivating AI skills in the public sector, my colleague Marianne Dahl has posted a helpful article here.