Roderick Crawford, Director of Public Sector at SAS UK & Ireland assesses the governments determination to improve the relationship between the UK’s citizens and the public sector
At the heart of the UK Government’s 2017 Transformation Strategy was the ambition to “put more power in the hands of the UK’s citizens and be more responsive to their needs”.
The goal was to create a stronger relationship between the population and the public sector. In an attempt to address this, many government departments are beginning to adopt digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), as they have the potential to rapidly accelerate this ambition.
There is no doubt that it is an admirable sentiment. Having a clear understanding of ones’ consumer base is a dream many businesses strive towards. However, one question still remains about the feasibility of this dream. How will understanding the UK’s citizens allow government bodies to deliver better citizen value?
There are three simple answers to this question:
Unlocking truly individualised services
Learning about ‘needs and wants as they evolve over time’ at a population level, requires an analytics solution that can get inside massive volumes of complex data (or multiple structured and unstructured sources) and use high-speed processing to execute best practice analysis. Analytical-based Artificial Intelligence techniques, such as Machine Learning, will allow policy and service champions to learn from citizen behavior to create and adapt services and communications channels. And they will be able to tweak and add to the range of services offered, as citizens’ needs evolve.
Deliver services quickly and at a lower cost
Any major projects that could benefit from increased use of data – especially disparate data – are prime targets for advanced analytics. One such example is Universal Credit (UC). Linking siloed components of the programme, such as the benefits helpline and individual casework data, and using AI techniques to analyse these very different kinds of data (voice and unstructured notes), will speed up processes. Departments will also be able to increase the accuracy of decision-making, and better align the needs of claimants to services. This could help the Government to reduce waiting times before UC is paid – currently 5 weeks. It could also help to claim back the cost of making the helplines free from other Government services.
Evidence-based improvements to services
With the number of citizens using Government services, and the variety of channels through which they give feedback, it can be difficult to get under the skin of what the public is really asking for. Advanced analytics is the only way that departments can make use of wholly new sources of data (including social media, voice, video) in order to give far richer context to service use and the need for change and improvement. This will help to create an accurate evidence base for future service investment.
Is AI already at work for government departments to achieve this?
It certainly is. For example, HMRC uses analytics to improve detection rates and find new opportunities for prevention and deterrence of tax evasion. The additional tax revenues, estimated to reach into the billions, can be redirected into other essential services, benefitting all citizens consuming public services. Furthermore, the UK Border Force uses real-time data-based decisioning to fast-track leisure and business travellers through the airport immigration process in order to deliver an improved ‘customer experience’.
Public sector organisations across the world, not just in the UK, need to understand the value that can be derived by utilising digital technologies, such as analytics and artificial intelligence, for both the organisations themselves and the UK’s citizens they service. Doing so will ensure that services are more efficient, more personalised, lower cost and continually improving through iterative learning about citizen usage.
 ‘Budget 2017: Universal credit payment time to be slashed from six weeks to 31 days’, The Times, November 19 2017: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/universal-credit-payment-time-to-be-slashed-from-six-weeks-to-31-days-h7wnm5x77
Director of Public Sector
SAS UK & Ireland