European citizens may soon benefit from more public services powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. The use of these new technologies is expected to enhance the quality of public services in the European Union (EU), drive government productivity, and reinforce the human factor in the interactions between public servants and individuals.
“Provide human-centric AI-based services for individuals” and “make strategic use of public procurement to fund innovation and ensure trustworthy AI” are two of the 33 recommendations included in the Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy AI published last month. The document was prepared by the 52 AI experts appointed by the European Commission in June 2018, forming the High-Level Expert Group on AI (AI HLEG). The experts appointed from representatives of academia, business, and civil society were entrusted with the mandate to address the challenges and opportunities posed by AI.
“Public services should invest in conversational user interfaces that can meet the needs of individuals 24/7, serving them in a more agile, accessible and faster way, from a single point of contact. This could for instance be done through the use of chatbots or natural language interfaces with multilingual support . . . and that could also simplify the filling in of forms in a conversational manner,” states the report.
Furthermore, the document acknowledges the power of AI to improve the quality and efficiency of public services and empower public servants to focus more on creative tasks, enabling staff to spend more of their time on interaction with citizens.
As a next step, EU AI experts recommend the public sector act as a “procurer” and foster innovation by acquiring AI-based solutions from startups, “scale-ups,” small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and larger companies, making use of the EU’s public procurement mechanisms.
Earlier this year, in its own initiative report on a comprehensive European industrial policy on AI and robotics, the European Parliament urged Member States to lead digital transformation “by positioning themselves as primary responsible users and buyers of AI technology.” On this occasion, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) received official recognition at the EU level for the first time. You can read more on this topic in my post “European Parliament Endorses RPA as a Driver of Transformation in the Public Sector.”
RPA is uniquely designed to enhance productivity and job satisfaction, while increasing efficiency and improving citizen experience.
An example of RPA’s value add can be seen at the Trelleborg Municipality, the southernmost municipality in Sweden. With a current population of 44,000 inhabitants, Trelleborg is expecting rapid growth, thus creating a demand for new homes to be planned and built accordingly.
Along with the growth expectations, new challenges have emerged, making it difficult for the local administration to address each of its citizens’ needs. In order to preserve the quality of public services, municipal chief executive Frederik Geijer and the management team decided to implement a mandatory workflow revision. The administrative tasks identified as being better suited for automation belonged to the Social Services and Labor Market departments. As a next step, the Trelleborg Municipality implemented RPA with Scandinavian consulting firm Valcon and UiPath Robots.
The results show administrative time savings of around 79% in the Social Services department and 95% in the Labor Market department. RPA has also led to significant cost reductions for labor market initiatives (by 44%), as well as a significant decrease in administration costs (60%).
Margareta Chesaru is a public affairs specialist at UiPath.
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