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April 12th, 2019
Artificial Intelligence
Agnes Audier Partner and Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group, Paris

Vive La AI Révolution

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@EmmanuelMacron is a big fan of #AI. This means his government's #HR teams should gear up for the incoming revolution – and fast

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#AI will reshape government organisations by blasting through silos and organising teams around policies, rather than departmental borders

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Public sector #HR managers need to anticipate and facilitate the #AI revolution without disrupting the day-to-day business of government

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30-second summary

  • President Macron has wholeheartedly embraced AI as part of his vision to transform France - but what are the implications for government and its employees?

  • Although there are myriad ways AI can potentially improve government, public sectors employ millions of public servants, all of whom are likely to be affected to varying degrees.

  • Government HR teams will be front and centre in this transition - awareness campaigns, re-training and hiring and retaining data scientists all loom large as key priorities.

France likes to carve its own path. That's no secret. Ours may be a country that shares borders with eight other nations, but we still have our own ways of doing things. From everything still stopping for lunch (although modern pressures are testing this long-held tradition) to the enduring global popularity of our art and culture, to be French - like me - means something special. Something different.

But one thing we are not immune to is the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution that is sweeping all before it. And I'm not just talking about a craze that is confined to the boardrooms of La Défense either. We may be a land steeped in history but AI is blazing a scorching trail from the Mediterranean scenery of Provence through to the weathered coves of Brittany - and turning hearts and minds firmly towards the future in the process.

Setting the tone from the top

That this technology has found itself a powerful advocate in the current incumbent of the Élysée Palace should come as little surprise. A key aspect of President Macron's appeal to voters has been his crystal-clear vision of the future and his determination to help France become more finely attuned to tomorrow's challenges, rather than those of the past. No wonder, then, that he is embracing AI so wholeheartedly.

Last month, he announced that France will be spending nearly $2 billion on AI research and development and went on to tell Wired Magazine in fascinating interview about how France and the EU could become global players in AI, as well as fill a gap in how the technology is applied to modern society, but only if the new technology is transparent and accountable.

Such lofty ambitions, while all very well, nonetheless raise important questions - particularly around AI's impact on government itself. The President's proposed reform programme - so broad that it leaves few aspects of our post-war labour market and welfare state untouched - is underpinned by the vision of a more citizen-centric system of public services that improve outcomes while at the same time controlling costs. It's quite an ambition yet one that edges closer thanks to the potential transformative impact of AI.

Opportunity knocks for public services

But of course, France's government is not alone in getting ready for AI. All administrations are - or should be - gearing up for a transformation the likes of which we haven't seen since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This is because there are myriad ways AI can potentially improve government. It can strengthen services by a more bespoke targeting of those in need at lower cost and, importantly, it can influence each stage of the process - from identifying citizens' expectations through to the implementation phase and communications with service users.

As CPI has pointed out, AI also enables the automation of repetitive administrative tasks, such as processing taxes, the issuing of various permits, and many more. And AI also offers up the power of predictability. Don't get me wrong, it can't - yet, anyway - tell you what will be the next winning lottery ticket but it can help policymakers steer limited resources towards high priority areas.

For example, the FBI and the Los Angeles, Chicago and New York Police Departments have been using AI technologies (“PredPol”, “CrimScan”) for several years to identify the places where criminal acts will most likely take place. And predictive analyses are obviously essential to improve medical diagnosis and treatments, at both the local level through hospitals and at national level, through health surveillance.

AI can also detect anomalies that can appear in any complex system, ranging from operational issues - such as a mismatch between procedures and results - and also when fraud occurs, an issue that virtually every government has long grappled with. And AI can also collect, process and analyse images - particularly useful in road traffic management and police activities - and serve as the interface between a government agency and a service user.

So, what are the HR implications?

Sounds good, right? It is - but that doesn't mean government is poised for an easy transition into an AI shaped future. Remember that public sectors employ millions of public servants, all of whom are likely to be affected by this technological tsunami to varying degrees. That means that the government's HR teams should brace for some very busy times ahead.

They could start by launching an awareness campaign about the uses of AI and the evolution of jobs, particularly so they reassure public servants about the enduring importance of their mission in the face of technological change, advising them that with technology set to take control of repetitive and impersonal tasks, they will be freed to focus on more complex and personal services.

AI is also going to impact the skills and competences that public servants require. As a result, HR teams should identify those areas that will be massively affected by AI and prioritise measures necessary to avoid negative effects.

Let's face it - the re-training efforts will be massive and costly, especially given the latest estimates of the AI impact on the volume and nature of jobs. But while such re-training is vital, government also needs to be focusing on hiring and retaining trained those with data science and machine learning backgrounds. This won't be easy - talent is scarce and the public sector can hardly offer salaries on a par with those on offer in the corporate world - but it can be done; it all depends on the quality of projects available.

AI is also poised to reshape organisations by blasting through age-old silos and helping organise teams around a policy area without the restrictions of ministerial borders. While many would welcome such a scenario, HR managers need to anticipate and facilitate such evolutions, without disrupting the day-to-day business of government. And HR itself is also likely to be affected: AI can help it become more productive by being deployed to fulfil the most repetitive tasks or those that require a lot of data processing, such as payroll management.

France's future

We don't know how the AI revolution will pan out. We do know, however, that while there are bound to be some twists and turns along the way, President Macron is right to be excited - we just need to make sure that the French government goes along for the ride.

Allons-y!

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The Centre for Public Impact is investigating the way in which

artificial intelligence can improve outcomes for citizens.

Are you working in government and interested in how AI applies to your practice? Or are you are an AI practitioner who thinks your tools can have an application in government? If so, please get in touch.

FURTHER READING

 

Written by:

Agnes Audier Partner and Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group, Paris
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