ACCENTURE: What impact will AI have on citizen services?
ELAINE BEEMAN: I think there is a tremendous opportunity for AI to fundamentally improve the way government agencies serve our citizens, especially in areas where we’ve seen work pile up, or wait times accrue. Civilian agencies in particular often face greater budget scrutiny and budget contraction, leaving them with fewer resources to serve citizens. AI and automation can have a real impact by helping agencies to do more with less, to move work forward at a faster pace and ensure better, more timely outcomes for citizens.
A: What are some potential quick wins?
EB: Agencies need to start where there’s a high likelihood of success and where the value and impact can be realized and recognized quickly. A good target is where you see backlogs—whether that be open cases or call center wait times—with work queued up and not getting done or when service level agreements or resolution timeframes are not being met.
Quick wins are often where there’s repetitive and time-consuming work. Sometimes it’s the pre-processing work that you’ve got to do before conducting analysis or making a decision. For example, you may have hundreds of pages of documentation to assemble and review to determine eligibility for a benefit. These tasks are often manual and time-intensive, and workforce constraints may limit the number of cases that can be processed within a specific timeline. That’s a great opportunity to use AI. You can take the drudgery out of the process, free up the capacity of skilled individuals and accelerate the adjudication process.
A: How is Accenture innovating with AI in citizen services?
EB: Accenture occupies a unique space in relation to our clients’ AI journey. Many of us have spent our careers focusing on our clients’ core missions—understanding their burning platforms, critical pain points and how they serve citizens. This client intimacy and experience is critical to our ability to understand and advise our clients on how to use AI to advance their mission. This is important as AI isn’t just about simple automation of small tasks. Rather, it’s about fundamentally transforming processes and operations to ensure citizens are served better.
Another key differentiator is our human-centered design approach and ethical AI focus. We design and automate processes with humans in mind, with the goal to enhance human life and work, and create better mission outcomes and maintain citizen trust.
Given the pace that this market is evolving, we also get asked how to navigate amongst the various players in the technology ecosystem. Our scale and reach mean we are continually interacting across the full gamut of providers from the largest cloud and technology platforms to the smallest, newest start-ups. This gives us a unique ability to assess and identify the right technology for each client’s requirements.
A: Outside of the federal government, where else can sector leaders look for inspiration and best practices?
EB: When you’re looking for innovation, you often need to open the aperture and look beyond your immediate environment. In the case of AI, I see an increasing desire from federal agencies for commercial use cases that can be applied in the federal setting. For example, we draw on our financial services and banking experience to help federal agencies automate processes in a very secure way. Federal executives recognize that banks are very effective at balancing both security and customer demands and are interested in learning from them.
Another example is our work with commercial health payers and providers, including insurers, hospitals and doctors working to support improved healthcare outcomes. They are pioneering numerous approaches to automation, data collection and analytics that are having a real impact. Federal agencies want to take advantage of this innovation.
A: How will AI potentially empower citizens to engage with government?
EB: AI offers a tremendous opportunity right now to fundamentally transform how citizens interact with government. Citizens are ready and eager to do this in many cases.
One area ripe for change is the whole call center experience. It is going to be totally streamlined by AI in the coming years, with voice recognition and natural language processing enabling interactions that feel more intuitive and seamless. The goal is to create digital experiences that are preferable to traditional interactions in many cases. And these are not futuristic solutions but ones that can be implemented now with the dual benefit of improving customer satisfaction and reducing cost.
A: Will citizens trust their data with AI systems?
EB: If we look at commercial examples, consumers are often willing to share data if they believe that they will benefit and their information will be secured. The situation is similar for government. Citizens desire better outcomes and many would be willing to engage with AI systems if we are transparent around the role that AI plays. This is a core tenet of our approach to responsible AI.
A: How do you prepare the workforce to work with AI?
EB: It is important to reduce the perception of AI as a threat. When AI is implemented responsibly, it’s focused on better delivery of services to citizens and that is central to the mission of government to which every federal employee is committed. Federal employees want to serve citizens better, get them access to the benefits they deserve and improve their lives and health. It is essential to align with that mission and connect the dots between what we’re doing around AI to improve outcomes.
Our recently completed research found that federal employees are optimistic about the benefits that AI can bring and are eager to learn more. They want leadership to take a more proactive role in explaining how AI will be used within their agency and how it will impact their role. That is the challenge and opportunity for federal executives.