Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director at SoftwareONE, discusses how mastering cloud will be the first critical step in the UK public sector’s widespread adoption of AI
As 2019 progresses, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be a prevalent trend, with a growing number of industries and sectors exploring how it can be used. The public sector is no exception and we are seeing AI being implemented to improve efficiency and reduce costs, a goal that is high on the agenda for all public sector bodies.
The Government’s recently established AI Council has also released its Technology Innovation Strategy, with recommendations on how government departments can build and use AI to their advantage and better serve taxpayers.
As central government continues to roll out its use of AI, we can expect to see other public bodies – from councils to the NHS – begin to explore how this technology can improve the delivery of public services.
AI in the wild
The benefits of using AI to improve public services can be seen at the local government level through examples such as Birmingham Council. The council employs an AI-powered customer experience platform to respond to the 2.19 million emails and phone calls it receives every year. By automating a task that had previously been handled manually, AI saves council employees huge amounts of time and enables them to focus on other high-priority tasks that may have otherwise been delayed or interrupted. The use of AI also reduces resource costs for the council by accelerating the speed with which routine enquires can be answered and resolved. Birmingham Council is an outlier, however, with a league table from Transformation Network recently finding that less than 5% of UK councils are using AI – showing that there is still work to be done.
Outside of local government, the NHS is also taking steps towards using AI to improve the diagnoses of conditions like heart disease and lung cancer. This technology, which supports diagnoses by spotting signs that doctors may miss, also holds huge potential to cut costs down for NHS hospitals. Sir John Bell, professor at Oxford University, claimed that the use of AI to aid diagnoses will be able to reduce the billions spent on pathology services by up to 50%.
Crucially, these AI-assisted diagnoses will also deliver better outcomes for patients, by providing quicker detection and relevant, speedier treatment. The NHS has recently announced aims to be the world leader in AI and machine learning within five years.
Cloud: The force behind AI
Given the benefits, all public sector bodies should be working towards including AI in their digital transformation strategies – and one factor that will be fundamental to making this possible is cloud computing. Cloud ultimately enables organisations to deploy their IT resources more quickly and provides the flexible and large compute power required to support AI initiatives. This allows public sector bodies to innovate faster and to introduce new services quickly; helping them to spot trends and adapt to changing circumstances with agility – creating the perfect environment needed to underpin AI projects.
However, if left unchecked, it can be difficult for organisations to keep track of what their overall cloud consumption is, making it hard to gain a clear picture of cloud spend. This risks counteracting the cost-saving benefits of AI and could hinder adoption, particularly when we consider that AI projects often involve large datasets that require organisations to be able to monitor their cloud usage in real-time and also predict future needs.
As such, it’s vital that public sector bodies put in place robust processes such as consumption monitoring in order to retain real-time visibility into their cloud usage and spend. Organisations must also continue managing their cloud environment post-adoption to consistently provide an environment to facilitate AI.
It’s clear that in the public sector and beyond, organisations are waking up to the importance of AI; The EU Commission recently put forward a ‘European approach to artificial intelligence and robotics’ with the goal of supporting the development of AI applications across all key sectors.
However, to get the most out of AI, public sector organisations must first put in place a robust cloud roadmap that provides complete visibility of the cloud environment. Once this is in place, public sector bodies will be able to deploy and innovate at greater speed and pave the way for AI to take centre stage of their digital strategies.
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