This article was originally published in the Autumn 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
We are now well aware millennials and Generation Z have different expectations to their parents. With globalisation and the democratisation of knowledge, enabled by the internet and mobile devices, the average citizen is consuming services of all kinds in an entirely new way. From renewing your car tax from your phone and having a video chat with your doctor, we now expect to access healthcare, government and educational services in a similarly convenient way, and artificial intelligence (AI) is often the solution to providing it.
However, the public sector is facing many challenges in the pursuit of these new services.
“Governmental organisations have to ask many questions in order to meet the demand of their citizens: how do we provide quality services as budgets keep shrinking?” says Kirk Arthur, senior director of worldwide government at Microsoft. “How do we address major societal problems such as aging workforces? How do we connect agencies while ensuring data is secure? And how do we keep our citizens, communities, and countries safe and protected?
“While this juggling act can be exhausting and overwhelming, it also has the potential to be exciting. Government organisations have an ability like never before to do more with less, deeply connect with citizens in powerful ways and empower government employees to be more efficient.”
According to Arthur, legacy and disparate IT systems are the main cause of issues in the governmental sector. “These agencies have to find a way to manage an overwhelming volume of data, but the multitude of disparate systems are compounding this problem,” he says. “Modern technology can greatly enhance government services by connecting systems, providing rich analytical insights and streamlining efficiencies.”
The other major IT challenge at the forefront of government is cybersecurity. “In maintaining antiquated computer systems, governments are spending vast amounts of time trying to secure them, which can ultimately expose sensitive information and put the systems at risk,” Arthur explains. “Leveraging modern technology, especially cloud computing and AI, provides governments with an opportunity to not only modernise their systems, but to better secure these systems and make them more resilient.”
AI could help solve all these problems. “Government leaders should care about AI because it can help the public sector deliver better services to citizens at a lower cost,” Arthur explains. “Machine learning (ML), in particular, could be applied to governmental issues to make people’s jobs more efficient, and save time and money. For example, ML can do minute image analysis on CCTV video footage, which can help find suspects in criminal cases.”
Education is another sector that is notoriously underfunded, particularly relative to how much digital investments could improve it. With members of Generation Z now filtering out of education, those still in the classroom have even less of a connection to a world without instant communication and knowledge. The industry therefore has a lot to gain by using cost-effective digital technologies to meet the needs of today’s student.
“The opportunity for education service providers has never been greater as systems, schools and universities have widely embraced the need to transform,” says Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft. “Leaders recognise the role technology can play to improve operational efficiency, improve learning delivery and drive better learning outcomes with more personalised and data driven engagement.”
However, the challenge they face is getting there. “Schools need to modernise, and in some cases replace, existing infrastructure with a move towards the connection that the cloud can provide,” Salcito says. “There is a growing need for integration across systems, as well as increased pressure on data privacy and security.”
AI has the potential to transform how people learn in today’s society. “The main benefit of AI will be making better use of the massive amount of data education organisations currently possess,” Salcito adds. “AI will be able to curate content for individual learners based on their learning history and needs and could improve operational efficiency, for example with class scheduling. AI will empower educators to proactively address student needs and improve instructional effectiveness.”
Microsoft has many solutions that institutions can leverage and education services providers can build upon to help educators provide an improved teaching experience. “Offerings like Microsoft 365 Education combine the tools, capabilities and services that students, teachers, and IT teams all need to be more effective, and it packages them together at an affordable cost,” says Salcito. “Minecraft: Education Edition adds an immersive, learning experience in a game that students love. And Flipgrid enables users to share and celebrate the power of the student voice.
“Building a more inclusive world starts at the education level, with schools as the cornerstones. And schools everywhere are taking transformative steps to develop more inclusive environments – ones that value diversity and promote belonging, with the goal of empowering students to fulfill their potential. The impact of a transformed education system leads to better outcomes and enables students to pursue careers that serve humanity, with the view to make it better.”
One particularly clear example of serving humanity with AI is through healthcare. According to a March 2019 Microsoft eBook Breaking down AI: 10 real applications in healthcare, the industry is increasingly adopting using data and AI for a predictive and prescriptive analytical approach. But data is the true enabler.
“Data is quickly becoming the new currency in healthcare,” said David Rhew, chief medical officer and vice president for Healthcare at Microsoft, when discussing his Microsoft appointment in August. “Organisations that create value through secure storage, clinical interpretation, and the seamless exchange of data between patients and providers are emerging as the new leaders.”
By analysing massive quantities of data, clinical staff can use AI to identify patterns and streamline healthcare processes, for example by empowering care teams with invaluable knowledge to more accurately support them, and optimise clinical efficacy.
“Ultimately, AI can help all of us in the health industry enhance patient and caregivers’ experiences, improve the health of populations and lower the cost of healthcare,” said Microsoft’s worldwide health general manager Neil Jordan, speaking about the launch of the eBook. “Empowering care teams will improve clinical and business outcomes, but also enhance the day-to-day and digital experiences of clinical workers and patients alike – creating better experiences, better insights, and better care across the delivery system.”