How governments can lead in the AI age

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  • Blog
  • 5 minute read
  • May 31, 2024

Scaling generative AI use cases in the public sector

Many government organizations face a disconnect between their digital capabilities and citizens’ expectations for intuitive, accessible and personalized services. The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly forced many services onto digital channels, widening this gap. And it will grow wider still as the private sector continues its rapid embrace of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI).

Half of the Canadian business respondents to our Annual CEO Survey told us they expect GenAI will increase the quality of their company’s offerings in the next 12 months. This adds even more pressure on public-sector entities to match the level of service that citizens receive elsewhere.

Government organizations face new pressures from GenAI. But they also have new opportunities. They can use the technology to hasten their modernization of public services and rapidly expand their capacity. They can also address lagging operational efficiencies, improve service level and reduce delivery costs. And, by pursuing these opportunities, the public sector can spark further innovations in artificial intelligence—accelerating the adoption of this new technology across the Canadian economy and helping to upskill citizens and businesses.

In this article, we explore how public-sector organizations can pinpoint opportunities to realize value from GenAI, foster innovation and move beyond proofs of concepts to deliver AI solutions at scale.

The path to GenAI value

We’re seeing exciting GenAI pilot projects underway at all levels of government. For example, we’re working with a large public service department to use GenAI to break down incoming requests for information into specific tasks based on a large language model developed from a repository of earlier requests. These tasks are then automatically assigned to human analysts—removing a layer of cumbersome manual effort.

Elsewhere, we also helped a provincial legislature office develop a GenAI-powered chatbot. This proof of concept lets call centre agents quickly respond to citizen inquiries without manually combing through different documents and websites to find relevant answers.

These are just a couple of examples of GenAI’s potential to elevate the quality of citizen services, unlock operational efficiencies and help departments deliver on their mandate. But even as they explore these and other use cases, government leaders are questioning how to move beyond one-off proofs of concept and use GenAI to generate sustained value for their organization and solve important problems for citizens.

The path to GenAI value starts with thinking about how GenAI can help advance your larger transformative vision, rather than making incremental, isolated improvements. This approach helps you experiment and learn how GenAI can fulfill your strategic vision, stakeholder expectations and citizen needs—letting you prioritize use cases with the greatest value-creation potential.

But harnessing the full potential of GenAI requires more than a clear vision. You’ll also need to address perceived barriers that can hinder your ability to innovate and scale GenAI solutions across your organization.

Overcoming barriers to artificial intelligence in government

Many of your workers want to use artificial intelligence. Canadian government and public-sector respondents to our 2023 Hopes and Fears survey of employees are largely bullish on AI, citing its positive impacts more frequently than the negative ones. This includes 22% saying they expect AI will improve their productivity or efficiency at work in the coming years.

Of course, it’s important to balance this appetite for innovation with a risk-aware approach to GenAI implementation that includes guardrails that let employees experiment in a safe environment. But our research suggests government organizations may do well to consider whether their risk appetite helps or hinders employee-led innovation. Our 2023 Global Risk Survey found that public-sector organizations around the world are more likely to focus on risk avoidance than uncovering opportunities within risks.

In some cases, the perceived magnitude of a risk overshadows the actual threat. We’ve seen powerful outcomes when public-sector leaders help their employees take intelligent risks—such as the rapid response of governments to the COVID-19 pandemic—and find ways to create value using GenAI. Here’s where you can start:

Create a psychologically safe environment for experimentation

Just 44% of Canadian public-sector respondents to our Hopes and Fears survey told us their manager tolerates small-scale failures. This environment can discourage employees from experimenting with GenAI to solve problems within your organization. Leaders can detoxify failure by communicating clear boundaries within which employees can safely experiment and learn lessons from minor setbacks. They can also share experiences of successes and failures across their enterprise and with other public-sector organizations.

Build confidence through low-risk projects

Using GenAI to automate back-office functions such as recording meeting minutes, preparing briefing notes or processing employee onboarding documents can deliver significant efficiencies with relatively low risk. As your organization gains experience and maturity using GenAI, you can start applying the technology to more complex service delivery challenges.

Reimagine traditional approaches to upskilling

Keeping pace with the rapid evolution of technologies such as GenAI takes continuous learning. Many leaders are finding their existing upskilling efforts are no longer fit for purpose. We’re seeing future-ready organizations build a skills strategy and deploy programs that deliver the right learning experience and rapid results. This includes creating a cultural shift and incentivizing the adoption of new digital tools.

Moving beyond proofs of concepts

The barriers to experimenting with GenAI are minor compared to the technical and organizational hurdles of a wider deployment. Combining the right infrastructure with a culture of looking beyond proofs of concepts can create the lasting momentum needed to generate sustained value from GenAI.

This includes properly structuring cloud solutions for use at the scale required by GenAI. Additionally, many organizations are investing in data governance measures to make sure their data is technically accurate and correctly contextualized so it’s effectively interpreted by GenAI applications.

Leading organizations are also adopting GenAI with security in mind by considering governance and responsible AI frameworks at the beginning of their journey. They’re pinpointing the guardrails, security measures and other procedures needed to prepare a project for a production environment.

As organizations deploy GenAI solutions, it’s valuable to create forums for sharing experiences, results and lessons learned between departments. This can spur further innovation by helping organizations build on existing solutions. 

How Canada’s public service can realize GenAI’s potential

Public-sector organizations that embrace GenAI with urgency can enhance important public services while achieving operational efficiencies. This helps to meet citizens’ rising expectations and create better value for taxpayers—building trust and sustaining governments’ ability to deliver on their mandate.

Considering the following questions helps you prioritize use cases that can be scaled across your wider organization:
  • Does GenAI offer a significant improvement to a current program or service offering? Have other public-sector organizations used GenAI to solve similar problems?
  • What skills will you need to develop and deploy your solution?
  • What financial, policy and IT approvals would be needed to move forward?
  • What are the risks? How can they be appropriately managed?
  • How can a specific GenAI use case add new capabilities and learnings that advance a larger transformation initiative?

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    Marilia  Araujo

    Marilia Araujo

    Partner, Data Analytics and AI, PwC Canada

    Tel: +1 613 755 8733

    Stephen Atherton

    Stephen Atherton

    Partner, NCR Consulting Leader and Government Enterprise Operations Sector Leader, PwC Canada

    David Telka

    David Telka

    Partner, Technology Strategy and Transformation, Public Sector, PwC Canada

    Tel: +1 613 769 1141