Lifting performance in the public sector with an AI-augmented workforce

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Lifting performance in the public sector with an AI-augmented workforce

How artificial intelligence can have a real impact on public sector problems

In the past two years, we have never talked more about the arrival of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and other cognitive technologies into the workforce, and how this might happen. The rapid shift of cognitive technologies from the realms of science fiction into the reality of here and now has caught many of us by surprise. As a result, there is some uncertainty around about the potential of these technologies, and the role they can play in our workplaces.

The range of applications for AI technologies is as broad as the cost and the scope of what they can do. They can be applied as a rapid response or as a transformation project. And their applications are so wide as to be relevant to every sector.

The public sector often rules itself out of being an early adopter of new technology. This can be due to a range of factors: perception of high cost, perception that AI cannot manage sensitive or complex processes, concerns about risk and cyber security, and the political implications of reducing government workforces.

There are definitely obstacles to overcome in implementing AI solutions within a public sector environment. However, the benefits to be gained are, in our view, worth the journey. Often the issues causing concern, like cost or existing systems, are easier to overcome than initial perceptions might indicate. Additionally, the capabilities of these new technologies are really impressive.

One way of considering how to make the best use of the new technologies is to think of them as your ‘AI Assistant’ – a member of your team that can help your people be more productive. AI Assistants with different capabilities can therefore augment your current team; relieving them from mundane repetitive tasks and empowering them with analytics drawn by accessing huge quantities of data in just seconds. When considered on a larger scale, broader use of AI Assistants now provides new options for how organisations can redesign their workforce.

Deloitte recently demonstrated just how effective AI Assistants are in a government context when we rolled out a proof of concept project with the Royal Australian Navy, by creating an AI-augmented workforce in one of their units.

The challenges facing the Navy are very similar to those faced by most government departments. They are undertaking a huge fleet modernisation program involving technology upgrades and a program of continuous ship building. While implementing this program, they are faced with the challenge of reskilling and redeploying their workforce, and reducing staff numbers by a significant amount. It’s a situation that has made Navy think differently and innovate.

Guided by one of their signature behaviours, ‘Challenge and Innovate’, Navy has taken a very different approach to improving their workforce’s productivity: augmenting teams with AI Assistants. Believing in the concept of an AI-augmented workforce means accepting that work in the future will be done by integrated teams consisting of humans, automated assistants, cognitive assistants and AI advisors, all working together to perform work faster and more efficiently.

The Navy project’s focus was creation of two AI Assistants to release capacity for their human workforce for redeployment to more useful, urgent, and engaging tasks that make the best use of human skills and expertise.

Our proof of concept at the Australian Maritime Warfare Centre involved redesign of their teams to incorporate an Automated Gunnery Assistant and a Cognitive Weapons Engineer. And the outcomes were impressive. The AI Assistants realised an 85% reduction in manual effort, with follow-on savings of $1.068m per annum and reallocation of 10% of existing staff capacity.

The journey of any organisation in recruiting AI Assistants starts with education because, realistically, the pace of change in this area means everyone is still learning. Spending time developing an understanding of what AI Assistants can do and also addressing misconceptions and concerns is important, and something we spend a lot of time on with our clients. With a clearer understanding of what AI Assistants can and are already doing, people naturally start to identify where they can be used to augment their own workforce. Then it’s a matter of identifying where an AI Assistant would be useful, testing it in a real situation, observing the benefits, and developing a roadmap for the future that uses the lessons learned.
 

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Given the importance of having effective and efficient public services to all Australians, enabling the best use of our public servants’ expertise and resources needs to be a top priority for us as taxpayers and for those leading government. We are now at a place in the lifecycle of AI technology where AI Assistants can be developed to address the unique needs of the public sector, and help to ensure their goals can be met, for the benefit of all Australians.

Deloitte will be speaking about their collaboration with the Department of Defence and the Royal Australian Navy at the GovInnovate Summit in Canberra in October 2017.

Published: October 2017

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