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Government leaders want to keep up the pace of COVID-era innovation, but do so more securely, a new report finds.
While governments may be intrigued by the latest promises of artificial intelligence, they are determined to maintain the pace of innovation they achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.
And while rapid improvements are appealing to agency leaders, the IBM Institute for Business Values’ annual CEO Study found that governments now want to modernize while paying greater attention to privacy and security than they did during the worst of the pandemic.
As agencies shifted services online, embraced the cloud and upgraded aging systems, leaders saw what was possible. Much of that transformation happened “in the heat of the moment, ” said Tim Paydos, IBM’s general manager for global government industry. Now things are slightly calmer and government leaders want to keep up that momentum while making security a higher priority, he said.
“Governments surprised themselves with how quickly they can innovate,” Paydos said. “We saw about 10 years of transformation in a two-year period.”
The numbers bear this out, too. Of those government leaders IBM surveyed, tech modernization was a top priority for 46%, with the same percentage prioritizing productivity or profitability, and 53% citing cybersecurity as their top priority.
One of the most visible pandemic challenges that highlighted the need for modernization was dispersing unemployment insurance money to out-of-work residents. Systems strained to keep up with tens of thousands more applications than usual, and delays getting money out the door almost led to disaster, Paydos said. The rush to support the unemployed also resulted in states not catching fraudulent applications.
“People don't realize how close we came to systemic failure of many of our governmental systems at the exact same time that citizens were turning to government to address their major issues,” he said.
With those lessons in mind, Paydos said government leaders are looking to emerging technologies like AI to help provide “frictionless” customer service and address talent recruitment and retention, which leaders said is one of their most difficult challenges.
And while governments may be excited about the promise of generative AI to improve services delivery, the best way to boost employee productivity could be AI-powered automation.
For example, AI can assist with sorting applications for government assistance and determining which need further review by a human. Or chatbots and other self-service technologies can lighten the workloads of call center operators. While everyone has an eye on more advanced AI developments, those initial use cases could be the most effective, Paydos said.
“ChatGPT is interesting, it's kind of a toy that you can go and sign up for and play with it,” he said. “But I think the real value of AI is going to be in augmenting human intelligence, automating and accelerating business processes.”
Modernization is not just needed in customer service but also on the back end, Paydos said, especially as governments look to innovate at the pace of private companies like Amazon and Uber. “It does no good to have this great citizen experience and to have an automated process if your back end can’t cut the checks,” he added.
Paydos said the desire for rapid innovation comes in part from government leaders believing “they could be doing more,” to prepare for the next big threat or shock—whether that be another pandemic, an extreme weather event wrought by climate change, more supply chain disruption or economic recession.
But alongside that, leaders are also concerned about the need to rebuild citizen trust in government, which has eroded in recent years. By optimizing government with automated, more efficient processes, leaders could help build and maintain a sense of stability and efficiency, Paydos said. If the government can “lead the pack,” it can help strengthen social bonds, he added.