Public-service executives in Europe are optimistic and enthusiastic about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on government operations and services but face challenges implementing the technology, according to a study issued by Accenture.
The study — based on a survey of 300 government leaders and senior IT decision-makers in Finland, France Germany, Norway and the U.K.— found that the vast majority (90%) of respondents believe that AI will have a high impact on their organizations over the coming years. In addition, nearly the same number (86%) said that their organization plans to increase its spending on AI next year.
Customer service and fraud & risk management are the two operational areas favored most for public service AI deployments, cited by 25% and 23% of respondents, respectively. In addition, respondents most often cited increased efficiencies, cost or time savings, and enhanced productivity as the greatest anticipated benefits from their AI investments.
Despite the support and enthusiasm for AI deployments, government respondents said their organizations are experiencing systemic challenges to delivering successful AI projects.
More than two-thirds (71%) cited difficulties in procuring the right AI building blocks — notably data integrity and processing capabilities; nearly six in seven (84%) cited challenges in adapting AI logic and reasoning to their industry context; and more than three-fourths (81%) said they experienced challenges integrating AI technologies into their back-office operations.
In addition, more than two-fifths (42%) have security-related concerns around the use of AI and almost one-third (31%) said they lacked the necessary talent and skills to scale their AI investments.
“AI is unlike any recent waves of technology change, it is truly transformational. That means it is complex to deploy and requires having solid foundations in place to ensure proper data strategy, governance and delivery success,” said Bernard Le Masson, who leads Accenture’s Consulting practice for its Health & Public Service clients.
“As AI spending accelerates and delivery expectations increase, governments must address the systemic challenges and build the necessary foundations that are underpinned by trust to maximize the technology’s potential and ensure its successful deployment.
“Only with a new operating model that takes an organization-wide approach to deployments, undertaken in collaboration with an entire ecosystem of stakeholders can the full potential of AI deployments be achieved,” said Le Masson.
When asked how much their organization invests on AI annually, the greatest number of respondents — 40% — cited between US$5 million and US$15 million, and more than three-fifths (63%) reported completing between just five and 10 AI-related projects over the last year.
Most respondents (81%) cited a medium to very high risk of AI deployments being duplicated within their organization or within lower levels of government due to a lack of internal collaboration and leadership oversight.
However, most respondents believe that their organization’s leadership is supportive of AI projects, with only one-fifth (21%) reporting a lack of support from the top for such initiatives.
“Our findings indicate a need for greater education around AI technologies to ensure that organizations investing in AI do so efficiently and responsibly, with a deep understanding of the impact the technology will have on their organization and workforce,” said Gabriel Bellenger, managing director at Accenture and sponsor of the study.
“By fully understanding the opportunities presented by AI, forward-thinking public service organizations can become trailblazers for the adoption of AI across government and help to unlock a wide range of economic benefits that create better outcomes for citizens and society.”
Country and sector comparisons
The research found differences in respondents’ perceptions of, approaches to and spending on AI across the countries and sector studied. For instance, the U.K. is significantly ahead (of the other countries surveyed) on current and anticipated AI spending.
One-fifth (20%) of U.K. public service respondents said their organization is investing more than $50 million in AI annually, and nearly half (47%) said their organization is investing between $15 million and $50 million in AI — the highest figures among the five countries surveyed.
Respondents from Norway cited the lowest levels of investment in AI, with less than one-quarter (22%) saying that they’re investing between $15 million and $50 million annually — whereas nearly half (47%) of U.K. respondents said their organization is investing that amount.
Respondents from the defense and revenue sectors were the most positive about the impact of AI on their organization, with more than one-fourth (27% and 26%, respectively) reporting that their organization is already investing heavily in AI (i.e., at least $50 million annually) and intend to continue that level of spending.
Respondents from the healthcare and social services expressed the most optimism about their ability to scale at least 10 AI use cases in the coming year, with nearly half the respondents in each sector (46% and 49% respectively) saying they would achieve 10 use cases or more.
This contrasts with respondents from the education industry who were less confident in their organization’s ability to achieve more than 10 AI deployments (32%).