Accelerating the Journey to AI for government in a post-COVID world

By | 5 minute read | May 12, 2020

AI is transforming how businesses operate and deliver value, while simultaneously improving efficiencies across the organization. Governments have taken an increasingly important role in the advent of COVID-19 as citizens look to government agencies for trusted information for their individual safety, well-being and beyond – to both support and benefit themselves socially, economically and emotionally.

Government priorities that existed before the pandemic take on a new urgency in order to meet the challenge of our current climate:
  • Heightened citizen expectations
  • Innovative delivery of services to citizens
  • Budget and spending efficiency

Governments are engaging citizens in new ways

With digital transformation empowering citizens’ lives in almost every daily interaction – from e-commerce shopping to digital banking to name a few examples – citizens are expecting the same level of engagement from their governments. Fundamental government services such as health, taxes, social services, immigration, manpower, and transport need to be accessed quickly and efficiently, as well as be effectively available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round. For example, the citizens of Miami-Dade County in the United States are able to complete simple tasks such as servicing water utilities thanks to virtual assistant “AVA.”

Through employing IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens, a pre-trained virtual assistant that functions both digitally and by phone, IBM is enabling governments to engage citizens in an individualized way thanks to accurate information from trusted sources.

The virtual assistant is pre-trained to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19 including the most recent use cases based on the latest guidance based on information provided from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and/or customized to local health authority information. It can also be updated by the user in minutes based on additional information that is relevant to their organization – including topics varying from communicating HR policies, to IT help desk support for employees now working remotely. It can take as few as five days to be up and running.

At one of India’s largest state governments where Watson Assistant for Citizens is servicing 100 million citizens, the initial benefit assessment is that the cycle time to convey information to the public has been reduced to under one hour.

AI-powered service delivery for citizens

Although government entities have access to large amounts of data, they are accustomed to managing it in very limited ways, and around very specific use cases. They are not used to having massive amounts of data that they can employ in creative scenarios like detecting fraudulent documents in taxes, detecting flights automatically with air traffic data, completing police verification for passports or other automated services. And they are not used to applying intelligence to unstructured data contained in documents in a way that releases new automated, predicted and optimizing capabilities.

This requires significant storage, data processing, and powerful models to support analysis. Because it has the capacity to learn, AI is well suited to interpret the meaning of data – especially data from text, voice, and videos. Imagine how long it would take a police officer to sift through thousands of hours of video footage searching for a red backpack. IBM Watson Discovery enabled expert assist solution can conduct this kind of search in a fraction of the time, freeing the officer to spend more time serving the public directly.

Using an integrated collection of data, cognitive tools and edge devices, governments can now modernize almost every component of public services. They can automate and receive reports from devices like traffic cameras, defence equipment, and air traffic monitoring systems. All analyzed by AI to detect anomalies.

For example, a large defense organization working with IBM has made a 5X reduction in cycle times to detect air traffic visual anomalies in its data feeds while simultaneously making a 3X improvement in the accuracy of detections.

Integrated planning across agencies using AI

How can governments and agencies employ AI in a more resilient way to plan and thrive in times of uncertainty?

There’s a new opportunity to optimize operations and to reshape budgets and finances across agencies and service models by collecting data across a wide, diverse set of government functions and divisions. AI can identify insights which can be used to introduce improvements on a continuous, real time basis allowing indivuals and their communities to predict and optimize resources. Using AI to plan and influence the development of plans will be critical following the Covid-19 crisis and the likely downturn following it.

The ability to model in real time what-if finance scenarios, and to analyze changes in real-time to respond and adjust when necessary. What is the impact of a new citizen service center or postal center? What happens if we increase the cost of water or provide incentives for conservation? How many rebates do we need to offer business to enhance hiring by businesses? It is through capabilities such as these in the private sector, IDC predicts that by 2024, with proactive, hyperspeed operational changes and market reactions, AI-powered enterprises will respond to customers, competitors, regulators, and partners 50 percent faster than their peers.

In case of workforce planning for outdoor activities such as road repairs or tax enforcement, workorder creation can be automated, and teams dispatched directly from their field locations instead of coming and going from a central office.

Based on the work details, the team can receive intelligence about supplies required to perform the work, and the ordering of replacement supplies could even be automated. We have seen governments slashing six to eight weeks of cycle time while plans and budgets with IBM Planning Analytics powered by TM1. At American Public Radio, they run constant updates to their financial model and near-instant model updates – a process that used to take up to an hour.

In another case, a government reduced budget leakage by up to USD 4 Million per month in inter agency planning and budgeting processes.

“With IBM Planning Analytics there’s no real limit on what we can model. We see it as a platform for more than just budgeting and forecasting.” – Patrick Olsen, Lead Technical Analyst, American Public Media Group

At IBM technology is in our DNA, but that doesn’t really do anything for government and public sector end users. Therefore, to target our technology like AI and make it real for  government and public sector in terms of outcomes, benefits to citizens and all stakeholders is key.

The safe experimentation culture is critical to innovation. In partnership with IBM, world class governments are developing accelerators, incubators and government labs as part of an emerging trend. One example of this movement is a supportive effort across private businesses to support governments in their efforts to enable communities to return to work.

Watch “Meeting the Global Challenge of COVID-19 with Data and AI” an on-demand session with Seth Dobrin, IBM’s Chief Data Officer Cloud and Cognitive Software.

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