Public Services > Central Government

Embracing ‘Digital Intelligence’: using big data to transform public services

Published 18 November 2016

Sharon Bagshaw, vice president, public sector, IBM UK and Ireland says ‘digital’ is a disruptive, transformative trend, but it’s not the destination. The journey is about embracing digital intelligence


Digital technology now lies at the heart of service delivery across the public sector in the UK, as transformation projects continue to open up new and innovative opportunities to improve the delivery of UK public services.

At the same time, the challenges faced across the public sector are tougher than ever before. Public sector organisations are under increasing pressure to improve efficiency, while driving technology innovation and improving service quality to meet the needs of their users.

Furthermore, citizens often face difficulty when navigating through the complex portfolio of government services and expect government entities to understand their needs and provide personalised services tailored to their specific circumstances.

But while government agencies have access to valuable information, they sometimes lack the capability to derive the insights required to provide these tailored services. So how can the hidden insights that reside in this data be fully harnessed to improve public services?

Using Cognitive Computing to Engage, Discover and Decide

The application of ‘cognitive’ technologies is allowing organisations to truly understand the value of data, and to discover how they can lay the foundations for improved service delivery by embracing this digital intelligence.

Cognitive-based systems build knowledge and learn, understand natural language, and reason and interact more naturally with human beings than traditional programmable systems. Government executives agree that this technology has the potential to radically change the sector. Our research has found that among those familiar with the technology, 87 percent believe it will play a disruptive role in the industry, 83 percent believe it will critically impact the future of their organisations and 100 percent intend to invest in cognitive capabilities.

So how do government organisations intend to leverage cognitive computing to address the issues they face? This new computing paradigm has three capability areas that align with and specifically address critical areas of focus for government organisations – service user engagement, insight discovery and decision-making.

From data overload to enhanced citizen interactions
To deliver more citizen-focused public services using digital intelligence, cognitive computing systems can be deployed across government to interact with citizens in natural language and provide expert answers to a broad variety of queries about multiple policy and service areas. Such technologies could be used to offer advice about income tax, employment and work permits, or workplace health and safety for example. Here, cognitive systems play the role of an assistant – albeit one who does not require sleep, can consume vast amounts of structured and unstructured information, can reconcile ambiguous and even self-contradictory data, all while learning from its experience.

Uncovering valuable insights
Cognitive systems can also help users find insights that even the most brilliant human beings might overlook. They can find connections and understand the vast amounts of information available within an organisation, discovering insights that human experts would not have the time or capability to uncover. For example, an immigration agency might use a cognitive computing solution to help navigate a complex information environment. The system would be able to help the agency discover and assess risks based on the vast amounts of available information, and take strategic, operational and tactical actions in mitigating them.

Providing evidence-based decisions
In the resource-constrained environments in which most government organisations operate, effective decision-making is critical. And yet, many government decisions are made without supporting evidence or data. More than two-thirds of the government executives we surveyed indicate they are weak in making decisions about reducing costs, while 62 percent indicate weakness in resolving citizen issues.

Cognitive systems aid in decision-making and reduce human bias by offering evidence-based recommendations. They continually evolve based on new information, results and actions. Such capabilities can help public safety agencies navigate complex information environments and more efficiently and effectively detect potential threats to the safety and security of citizens, for example.

Moving forward with cognitive

To assess whether they’re ready to implement a cognitive solution, government agencies should ask themselves what data is available to them that if converted to knowledge could improve service user engagement, provide more valuable insights or lead to more evidence-based decision-making. For example, looking at smarter and creative ways to use unstructured or ‘dark’ data.  

‘Digital’ is a disruptive, transformative trend, but it’s not the destination. The journey is about embracing digital intelligence and how that will help government organisations move along their cognitive path.  It’s a case of identifying the data and making a start on HM Government’s journey.   It’s about working together to define the era of cognitive government.

Sharon Bagshaw is vice-president, public sector, IBM UK and Ireland

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