The role of AI in public sector
The 2021 federal Budget was notable for the $1.2 billion funding support provided for the Digital Economy Strategy, which forms the basis of the federal government’s vision for Australia to be a leading digital economy and society by 2030.
One of the more significant investments in the Budget — $124.1 million — is for artificial intelligence initiatives, with a view to drive greater AI adoption across the economy.
There are any number of applications for AI across industry sectors, but the role of AI in the public sector itself shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly in the area of customer service.
Two years ago Gartner predicted that by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions globally would be handled completely by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017. While that prediction might have been a little ambitious, particularly as it applies to the delivery of government services, there is incredible potential here with the right investment.
The Digital Economy Strategy has frictionless government service delivery as one of its goals, with 100% of Australian Government services available online a measure of success. To achieve this, the government at the same time needs to focus on more foundational digital transformational activities, such as consolidating and integrating IT systems and data, and improving information sharing and analytics. The good news is that this is being done, and there are also a number of specific announcements in the Budget, including $120 million for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to consolidate its IT system and create a data sharing analytics solution.
Once you have integrated systems in place that can access and share data both within specific agencies and also across departments, tremendous opportunities open up to deliver increasing levels of automation and self-service — and to do this across all forms of communication, from social media queries and live web chat, to email and telephony interactions.
Within many contact centres today, AI is already in use, particularly in the area of efficiency, such as skills-based routing or workforce management. Where AI can start to play a much bigger role in customer service is in the routine enquiries that up until now have been dealt with by live agents. AI also allows government agencies to scale up and be far more responsive to spikes in demand from the community, such as information or advice with regards to COVID-19. AI can also be applied to automate the post-call process where an agent needs to enter additional notes about the interaction they have just had — saving them time, which increases the agent’s availability for the next call. Instead of typing in the notes, the agent can review the comments entered automatically by the AI bot and simply click ‘OK’ if everything is in order.
Some of the other applications of AI to enhance customer service include virtual agent learning engines to improve performance over time based on customer interaction, improving the time taken to solve the customer’s query. That could also include behavioural analysis to ensure that the resolution isn’t just achieved more quickly, it’s also producing more positive customer satisfaction as well.
Of course, the other foundational component that’s needed to implement AI-enabled automation is a single unified communications platform, which ensures that the service experience is consistent and the interactions are managed and captured across all channels. The level of integration that’s already possible today with AI apps in cloud communications platforms like RingCentral allows for a much fast implementation of AI capabilities and an acceleration in the agency’s customer service abilities.
This acceleration will be critical, when we consider the opening paragraph to the Digital Economy Strategy: “Australia’s place in the world will be defined by how we adapt to digital technologies and modernise our economy. The next 10 years will determine whether we lead or fall behind.”
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