How local governments can harness AI
On February 11, 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI), placing AI front-and-center of government IT priorities. But while much attention is placed on national AI strategy and adoption, state and local governments would also do well to consider how the technology can help deliver value to their citizens.
For municipalities, AI can introduce a transformative culture of data that will offer new insights and efficiencies, leading to outcomes like reduced crime rates, better monitoring and detection of disease outbreaks and greater protection of citizen data.
With diverse systems and infrastructure ranging from traffic signals and roadways to water and sewage plants, local governments are responsible for ensuring citizens receive the best services at the lowest costs. Add the threats they are facing like phishing and ransomware attacks, and the responsibility only becomes more significant. AI can help uncover valuable insights to vastly improve not only operations but also security for these agencies.
Data is in the dark for public sector organizations
Unfortunately, while many government leaders have shown they are excited by the potential of AI and machine learning (ML), most are still unsure how to wrangle their data and deploy AI and ML for mission value.
This is evident in Splunk’s State of Dark Data Report, which revealed that public sector IT leaders have a clear understanding of what AI is and its value, however, they still struggle with understanding how it can support workforce talent and training gaps, largely a result of the uncertainty behind “dark” and “gray” data and how it can be leveraged.
So what is dark data? Why does it matter? By definition, dark data is acquired but not used in any manner for decision-making, whereas gray data is held within the cloud and difficult to access. More than half of the public sector IT leaders surveyed in Splunk’s study said data in their own organization was dark or grey.
Building a culture driven by data
How then do local governments tap into this data, extracting value to fuel AI and innovation?
For starters, local government leaders, CIOs and CDOs need to adopt a data-first mindset. Being data-driven means ensuring the collection and correlation of data across boundless sources, creating the visibility needed to make decisions with confidence. It’s about turning data into an asset instead of a roadblock, which will help government stakeholders gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening across every department.
While it is true many organizations claim to have this mindset already, at least half (56% of survey respondents) indicated that “data-driven” is currently just a slogan within their organization–lip service to a trend idealized but unrealized. The good news is the willingness is there: 81% indicated that the future of success at their organization means turning the slogan into a reality.
Indeed, this outlook must be adopted across agencies, not just in the C-suite; everyone across the organization has a role to play, as every mission problem is a data problem.
Education is key—for ALL stakeholders
One of the first steps should be to build a workforce that has data top-of-mind and the skills to extrapolate how AI can map back to the mission. Starting with a trained and talented workforce will promote data-driven decision making by ensuring the question of how AI and data can be used is a prerequisite to all strategic decisions. A data-first talent strategy will also help close the gap between the employees who claim they understand AI (87 percent) and those who understand how to apply it to the mission (only 59 percent).
Local government leaders need to communicate with public officials and their constituencies on how AI and ML will transform and revolutionize the delivery of citizen services. Part of implementing a data culture requires the public sector to provide opportunities for public servants to learn, grow and acquire new skills to meet the demands of the future workforce. Leaders must be diligent in creating a forward-thinking organization and recruiting for the talent needed to work more with data and AI. This will help build support for funding AI projects and also promote the interagency and interdepartmental cooperation necessary for AI and data-driven initiatives to be successful.
A bright (data) future lies ahead
Whether helping to reduce crime rates, protect citizen data or enhance public safety on roadways, tapping into dark data and taking advantage of AI will change the standard of what the public sector can provide for its citizens. It might seem daunting for smaller municipalities to take on technologies that are enabled by AI, but the truth is that state and local governments are taking action already. If your government is not one of them, now is the time to develop talent and training and get a sense of your data by developing an AI/ML strategy to bring it into the light.
Remember, further and faster transformation lies ahead. The ability to ask data-driven questions is instrumental in making confident decisions in education, legislation and public investment—and in more effectively driving positive outcomes that keep local government organizations at the forefront of the future.
Frank Dimina is VP or Public Sector at big data software company Splunk.