Federal agencies can get the “steak” and the “sizzle” from AI and deep learning. The key: process reimagining.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning are reinventing how work is done in ways beyond our imagination. Organizations across industries are using these technologies to speed processes, reduce costs and free employees from repetitive tasks.

And yet, these techniques are only part of the story. By implementing AI technologies solely to save time and money, organizations risk driving away the very people they need to guide these machines—and work with them to achieve breakthrough results.

Forward-thinking organizations in the public and private sectors have spotted this risk and are acting to address it. How? By creating self-adapting, self-optimizing “living” processes that use machine learning algorithms and real-time data to continuously improve.

Accenture calls this concept “process reimagining.” We believe it represents a great leap forward that will unlock entirely new roles and new ways for humans and machines to work together.

AI on the rise

U.S. federal agencies are already making significant use of AI and machine learning. Witness the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EMMA, a virtual assistant that learns from her own experiences. Or the U.S. Department of Energy’s self-learning weather and renewable forecasting technology, SMT.

But are federal agencies making the leap to process reimagining?

To find out, we conducted research among 1,000 organizations that are early adopters of machine and deep learning, including federal agencies.

Dimensions of process reimagining

We found that 77 percent of federal agencies are using machine learning in at least one business process—and that leaders and visionaries in this space are harnessing three interrelated dimensions of process reimagining:

  • Reimagining processes
  • Utilizing data-driven optimization
  • Rethinking human-machine collaboration

Currently, only a relatively select group of federal agencies—just 10 percent of those interviewed, the same proportion as across all industries—are doing all three of these systematically.

A closer look shows that federal agencies are developing these three capabilities at different speeds:

The true potential of human and machine alliances occurs at the intersection of 3 lenses. According to the research: 27% use AI to create new processes, 34% use AI to find hidden value in dark data, and 39% to rethink the human-machine relationship.

Three converging capabilities

To realize the full potential of process reimagining to deliver breakthrough improvements, federal agencies must combine all three capabilities.

To date, people—the federal workforce—are the main focus. But data and processes also present huge opportunities.

There’s a massive amount of data within federal organizations whose value to wider society is currently going unrealized. Gathered from countless interactions with citizens, it’s data that could and should be put to work to improve citizens’ lives.

A similar imperative applies in process change, where federal agencies need to embrace new approaches that AI can support. Look at how retail has changed in just a few years: Consumers now have almost infinite options for how, when and where they buy. Contrast that with many experiences of federal services that have changed little in decades.

AI has enormous potential to reinvent myriad interactions—from completing tax returns to registering for benefits. And doing this isn’t just an option, but a necessity. Agencies must meet consumers’ rising “liquid expectations” set by other online experiences or risk losing relevance to their lives.

Having a chatbot on a website answering simple questions might look leading-edge, but it’s just an early step on federal agencies’ AI journey.

Reengineering the future

What do federal agencies need to do to accelerate their AI journey? Put simply, they must see beyond glittering but relatively low-impact uses of AI and instead target it for real operational challenges and citizen service opportunities.

Having a chatbot on a website answering simple questions might look leading-edge, but it’s just an early step on federal agencies’ AI journey. Agencies should raise their sights and pursue higher-value uses of AI that can be operationalized at scale to drive a long-term step-change in organizational performance and efficiency.

That’s how they’ll get both the sizzle and the steak from AI.

  1. Explore how to reimagine processes through out-of-the-box design thinking and other creative techniques that incorporate the possibilities of AI.
  2. Consider the workforce and AI to be complements, not alternatives. Skill-up the workforce so that AI augments—not automates or displaces—people.
  3. Develop a data-driven center of expertise to utilize the full variety of data in the organization.

Organizations have been using technologies to reinvent business processes for more than a century. But, at a time when most discussions about AI end with predictions of machines running amok, process reimagining offers a new vision: a more complete, proactive, collaborative and responsible AI strategy, with people at its heart. With their responsibility to serve all citizens, federal agency leaders have the opportunity lead the way.

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