Government's Artificial Intelligence ‘maturity’ low but growing fast

Government currently has one of the lowest levels of AI “maturity” compared to other sectors. The good news: within three years, it is poised to gain ground on most and rise to the middle of the pack, according to a new study.

Accenture’s The art of AI maturity research analysed the performance of 1,200 organisations across 16 industries and 15 countries. It found that around 12% of these organisations substantially outperform their peers on development and successful use of AI. These 'AI Achievers' have above-average command of the technology – data, cloud, AI tools – and other capabilities important to using AI successfully, including organisational strategy, executive leadership, responsible AI governance, talent and culture. 

The researchers also assessed how AI-mature each of the industries are on average. 

Double blow for governments – and a silver lining

According to the results, the public sector is playing catch-up on both accounts. First, it has one of the lowest average AI maturity scores, only met by the banking sector, which is equally heavy with legacy technology. Second, not a single public sector organisation qualified as an AI Achiever.

The results are surprising as there is no shortage of use cases for AI in government. Indeed, the pandemic has helped drive uptake of AI to support remote workforces and customer services in the public sector. 

Public benefit programs, such as unemployment services, now use AI-driven chatbots to serve millions of people needing rapid help. A major urban rail system in Europe deployed AI to reduce its energy usage by 25%. And AI applications for urban planning will proliferate, as will security and training applications to help public organisations address demands and operational challenges of AI.

Soon, these developments will help governments pass the red AI lantern to others. By 2024, the sector is estimated to jump to the middle of the field, overtaking industries such as banking, travel and consumer goods. At the same time, the percentage of AI Achievers in the public sector is projected to rise from zero today to five.

It is likely that the first public sector AI Achievers will have taken one and most likely more of the following five success factors to heart:

  1. AI leadership and innovation is led from the top in the organisations that are most successfully developing and deploying AI.
  2. Investments in AI talent and skills training are crucial given currently low levels of AI literacy across most organisations.
  3. Technology infrastructure is essential to enable development of AI. An AI core that encompasses operational data and AI tools is needed to transform ideas into pilots and achieve operational and service improvements.
  4. Responsible and ethical use of AI from the start is a must to ensure organisational and leadership responsibility and to empower and build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders.
  5. A long-term perspective and commitment should drive exploration and adoption of AI, generating a new wave of possibilities for growth and innovation. Nearly half of organisations surveyed expect to invest more than 30% of their technology budgets in AI by 2024, up from 20% in 2021.

These steps, identified and validated in the assessment of AI Achievers, can help any public sector organisation develop and implement AI to better serve customers and employees, strategically contribute to mission outcomes and improve services and operations. Success will be built on foundational AI capabilities in cloud, data and architecture, accompanied by strong leadership “sponsorship” of AI, strategies to meet talent needs, support for continuous innovation and ongoing commitment to responsible and ethical governance for AI initiatives.

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