Salesforce: AI’s a challenge – but the public sector will benefit in the end

‘I believe with access to the right tools and information and a culture of innovation, the public sector can not only meet but exceed the rapidly evolving expectations of its citizens’: Salesforce’s UK head Gavin Mee on the right way to look at this exciting new development

Posted 10 August 2017 at 8:11am by

Salesforce will be a major presence at the upcoming Think AI for Public Sector 2017 conference. We sat down with Gavin Mee, Senior Vice President, Enterprise and Head of UK, to hear his thoughts are on this vital new force in public service delivery – and why this major IT company has decided to support the conference.

For those of us in the public sector, can you give us a top-level description of the Salesforce mission in relation to the public sector?

These days citizens expect ease in their engagements with all government departments – essentially, they’re looking for the same experience they receive when dealing with consumer brands today. But meeting customer expectations is not particularly straightforward for many public sector organisations, which depend on siloed, legacy IT systems coupled with ongoing budget pressures.

At Salesforce, we are actively working to help the public sector innovate to deliver efficient, tailored services with which citizens look forward to engaging. In many cases this requires a change to internal systems and processes as well as external-facing ones – and a change in mindset to boot. That said, I believe with access to the right tools and information, and a culture of innovation, the public sector can not only meet but exceed the rapidly evolving expectations of its citizens.

What is Salesforce doing in the public sector, globally and in the UK?

We work with thousands of public sector organisations around the world to help them innovate their service delivery models securely and efficiently.

Digitalisation helps on both sides. For instance, simple online forms can help cut red tape, and let citizens access essential systems at a much faster speed. Peterborough City Council is a great example of a public agency that’s successfully built a digital services hub that provides access to a range of forms and council services. Citizens now ‘self-serve’ at their convenience and council employees are able to access the reports and data they need in real time. The result? Improved local services and a reduction in the Council’s budget shortfall.

At the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), we’re supporting the modernisation of the Swansea contact centre. The DVLA handles an impressive 1.1 million customer contacts per month – much of it through their contact centre. Advisors now use a single platform to answer phone, email, web chat, and social media queries, giving them a complete view of each customer’s history with the DVLA. This multi-channel approach to service has improved resolution rates and increased customer satisfaction to over 90%. And employees have felt the benefits too – engagement levels for contact centre staff have risen so that the DVLA now has over 70% employee engagement, which is the highest of any central government agency.

Globally, we’re also working with a very diverse set of public sector organisations and challenges, from helping Japan Post digitise with real-time views of business performance for all of its branches and product lines, to working with Colorado’s Statewide Internet Portal Authority to find more agile ways to craft new apps which make it easier to interact with citizens anywhere. Our goal is to help create a more convenient and personalised government experience.

What role is AI playing in your delivery against your mission?

Today we’re just at the start of the AI revolution. Over the next decade, I believe AI will transform many aspects of the public sector, most notably the way government interacts with citizens. It has the potential to make every government department, council or agency smarter, faster, and more efficient. For example, by leveraging machine learning, public sector organisations will be able to further automate tasks, deliver personalised communications to citizens at scale and help customer support be more proactive..

As with most major changes, there are challenges to adopting AI. This is something we’ve worked to address with Salesforce Einstein, the AI layer across our entire Customer Success Platform. Einstein doesn’t require a host of engineers or data scientists to implement and run it: pretty much any employee can use the app. Einstein learns from all your data, and delivers predictions and recommendations based on your unique business processes. In some cases, it even automates tasks for you, freeing up time to concentrate on strategic issues.

As I highlighted earlier, there are many ways we help customers transform their service delivery and AI is a growing part of how we work with our public sector customers.

What investment or development effort is going on to do that?

Salesforce led the cloud computing revolution 17 years ago, then the social revolution, then mobile, and now Salesforce is poised to lead the next big frontier for our customers, AI. Today, Salesforce is Salesforce is an AI-first company, which means we are democratizing AI so all of our customers, and their customers, can benefit from it.

Over the years, the company has made strategic investments and developed capabilities to make the enterprise smarter. We launched Salesforce Einstein in October last year, working with 175 data scientists and leveraging acquisitions like MetaMind, PredictionIO and RelateIQ.

You can already see the power of AI throughout the Salesforce Customer Success Platform, from basic content recommendation algorithms to state-of-the art deep learning – whether that is supporting salespeople, by analyzing information from email, calendars and CRM data and then proactively recommending actions that will most likely lead to a sale; or helping marketers better engage customers by dynamically delivering content tailored to each customer and predicting their likelihood to take a specific action.

We’ve also recently announced a strategic partnership with IBM Watson, combining deep customer insights from Einstein with Watson’s structured and unstructured data across many sources. In fact, we’re always looking for solutions that help our customers connect with their customers in new ways, and AI is a big part of that strategy.

What is your message to the readership about why you’re at the show – why is AI relevant to the UK public sector ICT professional here in 2017?

AI offers incredible benefits to public sector organisations and employees. We’re already seeing great use cases in the private sector, with benefits in terms of the end-user experience, as well as productivity and innovation. The public sector should be benefiting from this opportunity too – and ICT professionals play a central role in delivering this technology.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a healthy appetite for AI among citizens. Independent research we conducted at the end of last year showed that 48% of UK consumers and 75% of UK business buyers expect that, by 2020, companies will anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they reach out.  This expectation will surely shift to the public sector soon. Whether you’re ready or not, AI is coming and ICT professionals who embrace this change will be better placed to take advantage of it.

What, briefly, do you want to communicate to the audience at Think AI for Public Sector 2017, then?

The future holds so much opportunity for authorities to not only meet the expectations of the citizen, but exceed and anticipate them in a way they’ve come to expect from the private sector.  With AI and cloud technology, agencies have an opportunity to quickly implement new innovations across the business and benefit from predictive and actionable insights of the citizen and their needs.

As AI moves into the mainstream, it’s transforming every business and every industry, including government. Citizens who are accustomed to getting a taxi with one tap on their smartphone are looking to receive the same level of service from government agencies.

Now is the time for the public sector to harness the power of AI, to learn lessons from the private sector, and use AI to meet and anticipate citizen needs and improve productivity, both for government agencies and for the citizens who depend on them.

Salesforce will be taking part in a special ‘Digital Dialogue’ at the Think AI for Public Sector 2017 conference in London on the opportunity for public sector agencies to meet and anticipate citizen needs using AI, how organisations around the world are making use of the technology to transform their business, and why now is the time for the public sector to harness the power of AI.

Go here for more details on about the September 20 full day’s conference and expo, and here to secure your chance to participate in the debate. But hurry, as it’s filling up fast!