Revolutionising the Public Service
How human-centred Artificial Intelligence is changing citizen interaction
Prof. Alexiei Dingli
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Public Service Week. A period dedicated to all those people who every day provide us with a myriad of essential services. These range from cleaning our towns or cities to sustaining our health infrastructure.
All of them are important for a country to advance. Their work was particularly felt during the pandemic when these unsung heroes woke up daily, irrespective of their challenges, to keep the different aspects of our country functioning. Just for this, they deserve our gratitude.
But the Public Service Week was not about reminiscing on the past. It was more about charting the future. The three main founding pillars upon which the transformation of public service lies are the people, services and technologies.
Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash
The Public Service exists to serve the citizens because they lie at the heart of any government. Officials need to help their clients get the best service and in the shortest time possible.
Of course, one has to keep in mind the distribution of people who interact with these departments every day — old, young, literate, illiterate, foreigners, digital savvy, etc. The list is practically endless. That is why these departments are faced with a daunting task daily.
Photo by QuickOrder on Unsplash
This challenge leads us to the second pillar, the services. The government already offers thousands of applications, some through offices and others online. But with any large organisation, when it starts growing, things tend to become unmanageable.
Users cannot be knowledgeable about all the opportunities offered by their government, even if individual departments go to great lengths to inform their citizens.
People need guidance to navigate through the maze of online applications, evaluate their eligibility and eventually apply. Unfortunately, in some cases, the path is not so clear. They only manage to find a service either by accident or through referrals from someone else.
Furthermore, these departments interact with people with different expectations and needs, like digitally illiterate people who need assistance.
But they also meet those people who migrated online with their house key, car key, driver’s license, credit cards, and practically most of their life stored in their mobile phone. The expectations of these people are high, and they cannot understand how some of the government services are still offline.
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash
That is where the last pillar comes into play since technology will be the cornerstone behind this new pact between the public service and its clients. The new systems developed will not only provide clients with a digital sugaring over existent offline services. But the new services will offer many tangible benefits to clients. Let me give you some examples.
In any large organisation, one tends to find legacy systems that have been in existence for decades. It is hard to replace them due to the massive investment involved and the dependencies which they have.
One solution would be to go for Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology makes it easy to build, deploy, and manage automated processes that emulate humans actions.
So imagine you’re applying for a license; even though the process remains the same, the fact that an RPA system is processing it makes it much faster and less error-prone than if a human was doing it. Such a system will provide citizens with a superior service in a short period.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. A much more ambitious and important project is the Once-Only-Principle, an e-government concept that aims to ensure that citizens, institutions, and companies only provide standard information once. Visiting a department and repeating the same information that government already possesses will be a thing of the past.
Undoubtedly, the apex of all these transformations will arrive when Artificial Intelligence (AI) enhances government services. Imagine your marital status changes.
Rather than scratching your head trying to figure out where to start, the main public service app provides you with relevant information and suggestions. It is conscious of your change and informs you that you need to inform various departments.
But it goes even further. By just clicking a button, it will submit all the information required on your behalf. It also suggests new benefits for which you became eligible. Once again, rather than filling endless forms, the app requests your permission to apply on your behalf. Just click a button, and you’re good to go.
The benefits envisioned are rather impressive; they will change the public service forever and place it at par with what one expects from private companies.
Of course, one might question the perils of such a system, especially regarding privacy concerns. However, a phrase that features quite a lot in this transformation is the “ethical use of technology”. The reason is simple.
The first pillar in this digital transformation is the citizen. If we want citizens to use these systems, the public service has to gain their trust, and it can only earn it by committing itself to make ethical use of their data.
Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash
With this vision in place, the future of public service is looking bright. As in any transformation, there will be many challenges. But the people working in the public service have the citizen at heart, and I’m sure that they will overcome all the difficulties they will be facing.
In the end, I firmly believe that the public service will be stronger and better. Citizens will be satisfied with high-quality services and technologies that will change their lives for the better.
Prof. Alexiei Dingli
Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta. He has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. His work has been rated World Class by international experts and he won several local and international awards (such as those by the European Space Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations to name a few). He has published several peer-reviewed publications and formed part of the Malta.AI task-force which was set up by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world.