How Will Intelligent Automation Improve the Public Sector?

By Alex Osborne, Sales Director, ServiceNow

With the need for digital transformation progressing at pace, a raft of burgeoning digital technologies could revolutionize service delivery in the public sector. Zeroing in on AI and machine learning, we consider the potential impact of future tech and how – married to the ServiceNow cloud computing platform – they could bring about the realisation of a smarter, more efficient public sector.

The impact of innovative technology

AI could be one of the forces that fundamentally shapes the public sector of the future, with TechUK suggesting that the use of AI virtual agents across the public sector and government could save around £4 billion per year. Until recently, the public sector has been slow to implement AI and intelligent automation processes. This is partly because of security concerns, although the lack of digital skills within the public sector workforce is also a significant barrier. According to research from ServiceNow, almost 9 out of 10 CIOs in the private sector are already using or planning to use machine learning in the future, meaning that public sector bodies may be in danger of being left behind as the private sector goes all in on AI.

There are many different applications of the intelligent automation, including machine learning, voice recognition, deep learning, and natural language processing. The implementation of virtual agents (such as the ServiceNow Agent Intelligence) can have an enormously positive effect on efficiency in the public sector. At present, front-line customer support is a largely human-intensive process, wherein service desk employees are required to manually triage, categorize, and route requests (or tickets) through to completion. The process is often complicated and takes up a disproportionate amount of time for employees, and means that public sector organisations incur greater costs. According to a research by Accenture, when deciding where to route a request, 43% of IT service desk respondents had over 100 assignment groups to choose from, while almost a quarter of service desk respondents have to choose from over 300 different assignment groups. It’s easy to see that this is an area where inefficiencies are rife.

Virtual agents with machine learning capabilities are able to leverage huge swathes of data to accurately automate work, something which humans are simply unable to do. The ability to categorize and prioritize work more quickly cuts down manual inefficiencies in front-end services, while automatic routing allows public sector organisations to decrease error rates and time to resolution, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and allowing flesh-and-blood public sector workers to concentrate on high-value tasks that have a greater impact. The overall effect of this implementation of machine learning is to streamline mission effectiveness and improve the quality and speed of customer service and IT processes in the public sector.

We’re already seeing these kinds of machine learning agents having success in the public sector, with TfL’s AI-powered TravelBot having the ability to “chat” with customers and even “learn” how to answer queries correctly. Not only does this reduce the pressure on employees, but it also enables citizens to access real-time information about services more easily. Enfield Council is following a similar path, using natural language processing to develop a public service virtual agent – Amelia – that can recognize user intent and has helped to increase the volume of queries that the council is able to manage. All in all, intelligent automation through machine learning is a great way for public sector bodies to improve service efficiency and cut down on the workloads faced by their workforce.

Blockchain technology and IoT

There are plenty of other innovative technology trends that could have a potentially beneficial impact on the public sector. Blockchain technology – a consistent, trustless, ownable, immutable, and decentralized distributed ledger of transactions – could potentially be used to guard against corruption and improve the security of online records. Providing complete visibility into transactions, increased accountability, and improved customer satisfaction, there are numerous ways that blockchain technology, combined with the ServiceNow cloud computing platform, could provide solutions for complex problems that the public sector is facing in HR, IT, and Finance.

There’s also the growing internet of things (the billion-strong network of devices and appliances that are connected to the internet), which, in an age of ‘smart cities’, can enhance public services in areas as diverse as public transportation and water supply pollution. Of course, the IoT needs to be maintained and supported, which is where ServiceNow’s Asset Management application comes in.

For now, though, AI and machine learning are taking the lead, and with ServiceNow’s first machine learning solution – Agent Intelligence – available in the forthcoming Kingston release, it’s possible that we’re about to see the impact of AI on the public sector really begin to take off.