GCC governments can save billions if they adopt AI

03 November 2020 Consultancy-me.com

The art of artificial intelligence (AI) could help optimise a variety of government functions in the Middle East, generating economic value of $7 billion per year. This is according to a new Oliver Wyman report.

The research is set against the backdrop of expanding internet accessibility in the Middle East and Africa region, where internet protocol (IP) traffic is expected to grow by more than 40% by 2022. Using best practices from around the world, Oliver Wyman detailed how AI can help governments better serve a digitally connected population.

For one, AI can enhance government services – menial tasks such as licenses, registration, tax, post, etc – that are widely criticised for long waiting times. According to the consultants, personalised chat bots can guide the public through these actions swiftly and accurately. An example is ‘Rashid’ – the UAE’s virtual assistant that “collects data from multiple public and private entities to answer concerns ranging from setting up a business, licensing and attestations, to transportation in the city,” according to the report.

GCC governments can save billions if they adopt AI

Then there is AI’s role in public policy. AI can help governments monitor social media for responses to policy changes or general public opinion – all of which can inform tweaks and improvements for more public satisfaction. Oliver Wyman’s example of choice here is Belgium’s CitizenLab – an AI-based data analysis platform that can sift through public complaints.

“In early 2019, volunteers protesting against inaction towards climate change received more than 1,700 ideas and 32,000 votes from citizen submissions. Using the platform's advanced analytics capabilities, these ideas have been translated into 15 priority policies that the public can vote on,” explained Jad Haddad, report co-author and a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Digital practice.

Creative insights aside, AI can also simply take over all mechanical tasks in government, and complete them faster and more accurately than humans. Government officials, meanwhile, are left free to be creative and thoughtful – traits that many expect from their government.

According to the researchers, certain federal government programmes in the US have managed to cut down on five hours of work per public servant using Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Scaled to the whole government, the report suggests this could save $3 billion in capacity.

The mechanical efficiency of AI also gives it value in the space of finance and budgeting. “Public finance management can leverage algorithms to improve revenue collection, optimize budget allocation, detect and reduce financial fraud, and augment government audit capabilities to reduce corruption and avoid wasting taxpayers' money,” explained Manuel Abat, a partner at Oliver Wyman and report co-author. Exemplifying this potential is the Queensland Office of State Revenue in Australia, which used machine learning applications to predict tax defaults.

So everything from citizen interactions with the government and public servant behaviour, to public policy and budgeting can be enhanced by advancing AI development. Provided that governments in the Middle East take a strategic approach to their AI investments, these improvements could add up to $7 billion in economic value.

According to Oliver Wyman, governments in the region have so far been put off by the perceived cost and complexity of AI, without realising the potential return on investment. That being said, Covid-19 and all its economic repercussions has warmed many to the idea of boosting efficiency and saving costs, not to mention the possibility of managing functions remotely. “Most governments are therefore accelerating their AI planning,” said Haddad.