Interview: Ryan van Leent, SAP Global Public Services

SAP Australia Pty Ltd

Thursday, 18 January, 2024

Interview: Ryan van Leent, SAP Global Public Services

After years of extensive disruption, will 2024 see the dust settle or can we expect the same rate of change?

Disruption has become business-as-usual. In addition to the social, economic and environmental upheaval we’ve experienced in the first part of this decade, we’re now in the midst of an AI technology disruption that Gartner’s predicting will be as impactful as the steam engine, electricity and the internet.

ChatGPT caused such a stir because it demonstrated that the AI revolution — that had forever been 10 years away — is here today. Generative AI has already changed how content is produced, and very soon we’ll start to see it changing how decisions are made, at which point it will fundamentally change how businesses and governments are run.

Machine learning, AI and automation grabbed all the headlines last year — what separates the hype from reality in terms of useful application?

There’s certainly a fear of getting left behind, which has motivated lots of frenetic experimentation. But governments have moved quickly to ensure that AI is being applied rationally and responsibly. Government regulations, like the DTA’s interim guidance on GenAI, have helped cut through the hype to uncover solid use cases for AI in business.

The key to applying this new capability in a way that’s useful is encapsulated in the 3-R’s of Business AI. We need to make AI relevant by embedding it in the systems that users interact with every day; we need to ensure that AI outputs are reliable by grounding the models with appropriate business data and context; and we need to apply AI in a responsible way that’s in keeping with societal expectations. It’s a lot easier to stay grounded in reality when your AI scenarios are relevant, reliable and responsible.

Privacy, data security and the exceptional customer experience… can they coexist?

In a recent IDC survey, data protection was identified as the single most important consideration in government scenarios for GenAI. We need to be particularly mindful of this since there’s an inherent risk that confidential data could be included in a user’s prompt and inadvertently shared with a third party. But there are ways to mitigate this, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that GenAI can’t be used by governments to deliver a great customer experience. In fact, we’re seeing some fantastic scenarios, incorporating GenAI to generate case summaries and communication proposals that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of customer interactions.

In an ideal world, what would government, innovators and the tech industry successfully deliver in 2024?

Although we’re growing accustomed to entering prompts in natural language, I don’t think we’re yet interacting with AI naturally. In most cases AI is ancillary to core business systems and is often still confined to back-office analytics. To realise the potential of AI in the front office, it needs to be embedded as an integral part of core business processes.

We’re making good progress with Business AI, and I think 2024 will be the year we start to see more natural human–machine collaboration.

Ryan van Leent is a member of SAP’s global leadership team for public services. He is responsible for incubation of emerging and strategic solutions, and is currently focused on Generative AI. Ryan has deep subject matter expertise in social protection, and is passionate about helping governments to improve peoples’ lives.

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