Making AI work for citizens

COVID-19 may speed the digital transformation of government

AI in government

Public and private sector organizations have long faced similar challenges in delivering digital experiences to their employees and customers. However, industry has been faster to adopt advanced technologies like machine learning that have revolutionized workflows and service delivery.

In his Knowledge 2020 session, Bob Osborn, ServiceNow’s CTO for global governments, described how public agencies are trying to catch up and create better experiences for citizens. Recent events, he suggested, may help accelerate the pace of change and allow government agencies to make better use of artificial intelligence.

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“Everyone has been challenged with expanding the enterprise boundary in order to allow our employees to work from wherever they are with whichever device they have,” Osborn said. Every organization today must meet the challenges created by physical distancing and a dispersed workforce.

“We’re seeing agencies actually able to accelerate their digital transformation strategies during this time of separation,” Osborn said. “That’s a pretty cool thing.”

The legacy of on-prem IT

Machine learning and process automation got off to a slow start in the public sector, said Osborn. This is partly due to laws that constrain decision making in government agencies. For example, U.S. government agencies must comply with laws that say only specified individuals can approve contracts. This makes it hard to automate the relevant approval processes.

As a result, many agencies still rely on spreadsheets and paper to manage key functions such as licensing and permitting, and continue to use massive, in-house systems that store necessary data. Knowing where information is, or who can help find it, has always been key to success in the public sector.

And that’s only part of the puzzle. “As soon as employees pull information from legacy systems to aggregate it in a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint, it becomes stale information,” said Osborn. We’re constantly working in arrears to what the truth really is, and that’s just the way we’ve always done things.”

Removing inefficiencies and overcoming the public sector’s trust issues with AI opens the door for better citizen experiences. “Now we can start to have supervised machine learning and AI to provide that rich contextual awareness of what’s happening in the enterprise to support the decision of any workflow on that platform,” said Osborn. “We start to have the experience of our personal lives in the enterprise workplace.”