We were thrilled to co-host a recent event that brought together colleagues from across the public sector to explore how AI and robotics can improve our working environments.
From using AI to free up teams to work more closely with customers to understanding the cultural implications of automation, the day was packed full of fascinating anecdotes, challenges and success stories.
The importance of culture: the future of AI is human-shaped
Many of the speakers touched upon the importance of putting people at the centre of any AI or robotics project. Significant change can be unsettling; it’s imperative that you develop a strategy that allows teams to feel part of the journey.
One way to do this is to spend time observing teams in their workplace. This allows you to both understand their pain points and challenges, and to identify which processes could be automated. Rather than employing expensive consultants to advise you, listen to your staff. They are the experts in their workflows and are a rich source of insight.
During a period of transformation and change, it’s more important than ever to define clear roles and responsibilities at both an individual and organisational level. It’s important that staff understand what is being asked of them and, crucially, also understand how their role impacts the wider organisational objectives.
Successful change implementation is reliant on developing an open culture that is underpinned by a robust and transparent feedback loop. Expect feedback - both positive and negative - and be willing to act on it. If your staff feel that their concerns are being addressed, it will help them feel confident that you’re putting their needs at the centre of your decision-making process.
By front-loading the triage and discovery stages of a potential AI project, you’ll ensure you’re learning quickly and failing fast - if something isn’t going to work, it’s best to know sooner rather than later. Expect to find this stage challenging but take the opportunity to develop in-house skills as a team. Again, the more your teams feel they are being included in the process, the more successful (and long lasting) the change will be.
Time matters: using time as a measure of success
In the public sector, we’re often very focused on financial savings or headcount, but when it comes to developing successful AI and robotics projects, it can be more beneficial to adopt a ‘time matters’ philosophy.
Measuring success through time saved redefines the parameters of value. By automating high-volume, repetitive tasks you can redeploy individuals to high value tasks instead. This decreases stress, increases overall staff happiness and, in turn, results in a better experience for the end user or customer. Automation also allows us to decrease siloed working and integrate systems that traditionally didn’t talk to each other; ultimately saving time for both staff and end users.
Sharing as best practice
Another great benefit of automation, AI and robotics is the ability to learn once and share widely. As you develop a process of automation, you’re able to share this with colleagues across the wider public sector. By doing this, you can develop and deploy solutions really quickly, and you’ll also benefit from others’ development as well. This sort of two-way sharing helps reduce duplicate work and develops strong communities of practice across a wide network.
It is worth remembering that automation is widely considered to be a “for now” service; solving an issue or problem quickly, but that is likely to change or develop over a few months or years. Because of this, it’s important that we are learning from each other’s projects as much as we are learning from our own.
Building capabilities and working in partnership
In a fast-paced, change-focused environment, it’s important that we always consider how we can future-proof the work we are doing. One way to do this is to invest in developing in-house capabilities across teams at all levels.
When you start working with a supplier, it’s preferable to develop the relationship as a partnership rather than a customer-consultant setup from the outstart. This way, you’ll be able to work together to develop expertise in-house alongside your supplier.
Not only is this a viable long-term investment, it also allows you to showcase the benefits to the wider business and will enable you to build a strong business case for future automation projects.
Agile ways of working: failing fast, failing often and sharing challenges
Many speakers at our AI and robotics event touched on the challenges of working in a new way, and identified the need to ‘fail fast, fail often’ as a key component of success. Taking an agile approach to projects of this type mean you can quickly establish if a project is viable without getting a distance down the road before discovering an issue.
Essentially you try something, get feedback, and then rapidly either adapt the project or terminate it. This approach means you can test things quickly and understand their viability without investing too much time or resources.
Starting to consider ethics and standards
The introduction of AI, automation and robotics into the workplace is just starting to build momentum, in fact, it’s so early that a clear code of ethics and standards is still in development. As this new generation of ethical standards begin to emerge, we will need to be mindful that the projects we have carried out in the past or are planning for the future, will need to comply to these standards.
At a very basic level, we need to ensure that we can build a trusting relationship between AI, robotics and the end user - whoever that might be. There will be some fundamental ethical principles, with additional standards and expectations for different specific areas of AI and robotics.
As we work together on developing better ways of working, we can expect to encounter many challenges, successes and opportunities to collaborate. It’s an exciting time to work in the public sector, and by sharing our skills and knowledge, developing holistic approaches to complex challenges and replacing high volume, repetitive tasks with high value, meaningful tasks, we can all expect a better working environment, and a better end user experience, too.