Four top tips to help the public sector accelerate its AI journey

We see news reports on an almost daily basis on the power of technology

In fact, PwC claims that artificial intelligence (AI) could contribute £15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. While most of us understand the need to digitise to succeed, it can feel like the end goal is out of reach. As we heard at our recent Leadership Forum in Manchester, local government leaders can feel overwhelmed by the need to innovate to meet citizen demands, which can put them off moving forward.

AI is often portrayed in the media as having the potential to become an intrusive ‘big brother’ technology. But this scaremongering is often misplaced. AI has the ability to completely transform the way organisations operate and streamline and enhance the offering provided to citizens.

That’s why the government has announced it will join forces with the European, US and Japanese tech sectors, together pledging £1 billion to drive AI research in the UK. This research will help ensure the UK stay at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better.

However, while big tech organisations continue to make breakthroughs in the use of AI, it must be made clear that its use does not need to be all-singing, all-dancing. In fact, many of us interact with AI daily, without even knowing it, from your email provider automatically filtering out spam to receiving product recommendations when you’re shopping online or downloading music.

The important thing for public service leaders to remember is that small steps can be taken to ease their AI journey. Innovation can be broken down into achievable chunks, so organisations can make and show progress on a regular basis. Enfield Council, for example, has introduced Amelia, a robot technology dedicated to frontline council services – such as taking resident queries or authenticating licenses. Once front-line workers and the public start to see improvements and use cases such as this, support will grow, and the end goal won’t seem so daunting.

Here are four top tips to start achieving value through AI on your transformation journey.

Drive a culture of innovation 

With reduced budgets and smaller teams, some public service organisations are still looking at AI as a technical advancement instead of an organisational initiative. AI implementation and an organisation’s digital transformation strategy is not just another task for the IT department.  To be successful, the whole organisation must be on board.

Embracing digital transformation requires the existence of a digital culture and mindset across the organisation, championed by strong leaders who are willing to tackle the challenges of leading in a digital first environment. Understanding this, our report, ‘Invigorating the public sector revolution’ calls for public service leaders to empower and inspire the wider workforce and take responsibility for building a culture that encourages employees to innovate and try new ways of working without fear of failure.

Manage employee apprehension to new technologies

Key to building this culture is leaders who are transparent in their plans to adopt new technologies and continuously communicate with employees about the benefits it will bring. Once people realise they can move one step at a time, the overall task will seem less scary, and ensuring regular communication on the project’s progress allows employees to feel they are a part of the digital journey.

Use AI to deliver better outcomes, faster

Unlike consumer choice, public sector customers can’t leave and go elsewhere. The first question local government leaders should consider is, ‘what’s the problem we’re trying to solve and how big is it?’ Often during transformation programmes, people can lose sight of the bigger picture.

AI must be used to improve and enhance citizen service, from connecting the dots and spotting anomalies and trends in patient healthcare records to improve outcomes and catch any potential issues quickly, to using predictive analytics in housing to enable better personalised support for vulnerable customers.

An excellent example of this is our work with Kent Police, which is meeting the innovation demand by using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology. System data reveals patterns of behaviour which, when linked to other intelligence data, provides police forces with a truly powerful investigative tool which speeds up police work and protects the public through saving officers valuable time connecting the dots.

Push data-driven technology

What’s important to remember is that AI relies on the right kind of data, not just any data. Public sector organisations sit on an ‘untapped goldmine’ of data which could offer valuable insight to tailor their services to the needs of citizens. For example, Civica partnered with Highways England to launch an integrated weather information system. Using a combination of sensor data and intelligent algorithms, the system enables better management of the nation’s roads during times of severe weather. Through use of data and analytics, Highways England can make the best decisions on deployment of its gritting fleet to ensure roads stay usable through severe weather, which ultimately saves people’s lives.

Overcoming the barriers to change and making small, incremental movements on the adoption of AI will help public service leaders meet evolving and increasing expectations of service delivery. The task at hand doesn’t always require in-house skills either; there are expert partners who can help you gain the 360-degree view needed and support you throughout the journey.

Understanding the need to drive AI innovation throughout the public sector, Civica launched its new Innovation Partners Programme earlier this year to mentor and partner with innovative UK technology start-ups focused around artificial intelligence, automation and connected devices. We’ve also partnered with the University of Bath to support its new UK Research and Innovation Centre for Doctoral Training in Accountable, Responsible and Transparent AI. Because ultimately, if AI-enabled systems are designed and used properly, their unique capabilities could mitigate existing shortcomings and develop more safe, interactive, exciting and efficient public services which work for everyone’s future.

About the Author

Steve Thorn is Executive Director, Digital at Civica. Civica is a market-leading specialist in business critical software applications, digital solutions and managed services that help teams and organisations around the world to transform the way they work. Combining exceptional customer focus, experience and commitment, Civica supplies more than 3,000 major organisations in 10 countries around the world.