How the public sector is transforming citizen services with AI

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 December, 2022 at 12:21 pm by Andre Camilleri

In 2019, Malta’s Government launched an AI strategy followed by a consultation process with several stakeholders, a process in which MICROSOFT, which is already successful in its implementation of AI technology, had participated intensely. This was followed by an “AI Roadshow” which Microsoft conducted with several ministries to explore a number of possible AI projects in which Microsoft could lend its expertise, and also its technology, to a series of Government projects in line with the strategy’s main pillars including transportation, health, education, culture, public finance, and taxation.

“Unfortunately, a global pandemic almost brought things to an abrupt stop, but we saw this as an opportunity, and we kicked off a roadshow during which we could present our technology and our ideas in a gradual and more structured pace. We conducted online meetings with approximately ten ministries with whom we discussed a number of projects,” says Kyle Anastasi from Microsoft Malta.

“The underlying aim of this ‘roadshow’ was quite a simple one: we know that Government has been looking at better ways how to service the public more efficiently with today’s available technology. From our end, we wanted to show Government how Microsoft’s AI technology can help by automating processes as much as possible to help achieve new levels of efficiency,” added Mr Anastasi.

Some of the projects discussed with different ministries have already been approved and have started being implemented while some others are still being envisioned.

“We believe that no matter how important and meaningful the achievements at Government level are, citizens need to remain at the heart of any strategy. At Microsoft, we have always believed that unless Malta’s citizens reap the benefits of Microsoft’s presence in a more tangible manner, they cannot hugely appreciate the value that Microsoft has been bringing to Malta over the past eighteen years. This is the underlying message we want to deliver through these projects” added Mr Anastasi.

Microsoft’s AI roadshow was conducted in close collaboration with MITA who always appreciated Microsoft’s capabilities and its commitment as partner to Malta’s Government.

With MITA, Microsoft has been collaborating for many years. More recent collaborative projects included a government-wide investment on a hybrid cloud infrastructure platform based on Microsoft technology, the deployment of over 23,000 government users on Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams to enable more effective collaboration between teams and departments, as well as ongoing cybersecurity investments to better safeguard MITA’s technology platforms.

Yannis Zisos, Digital Advisor, Customer Transformation in Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) at Microsoft was on the team throughout the AI roadshow, bringing in tangible examples of Microsoft’s success with similar projects in other countries and approaching the strategic and business aspects of the AI initiatives.

“We have always believed that we have the right technology with which as partners to Government, we can contribute towards our commitment to improve citizens’ daily life. On the other hand, throughout this AI roadshow, we found out how at Government level, the ideas were already there but once we came in with our technology, what were ideas suddenly became more grounded and concrete possibilities,” said Dr. Zisos.

“Although the concept of AI started becoming more talked about in the last few years, where we are today is the result of a long journey and yet another important milestone,” outlines Kyle Anastasi, adding how it has been since Microsoft’s arrival in Malta that the global corporation has constantly sought to be a veritable partner to the country.

“We have always been set on enabling Malta’s economic growth and establishing the country at the forefront of IT adoption. In fact, what we are doing now is the result of an MoU signed between Microsoft and the government four years ago when we had pledged our support to a stra­tegy that was to focus on three ‘Digital Malta’ pillars, namely a ‘Digital Government’, a ‘Digital Business Sector’ and the ‘Digital Citizen’. This AI roadshow is now all about the ‘digital citizen’ pillar.”

Kyle Anastasi and Yannis Zisos both believe that the true potential of AI still needs to be discovered, experienced, and appreciated.

“This happens with every revolutionary new technology: it takes long to kick in. We saw it happen with the internet, with ecommerce, with online shopping and more recently, with cloud computing. Although the adoption of AI into our daily lives is still in its early stages, we are very confident that people will acknowledge it once these technologies start adding tangible value to their daily lives.”

“This is why at Microsoft we chose to start being active on this front at Government level. Already in 2018, we organised the first blockchain workshop for public sector employees and invested in several PoCs and pilot pro­jects that focused specifically on emerging technologies. We then hosted awareness sessions for the public sector, as well as several workshop sessions on artificial intelligence scenarios,” added Mr Anastasi.

Yannis Zisos outlines that concerns related to AI remain especially when it comes to privacy and security and that these concerns are understandable.

“As far as Microsoft is concerned, we abide by a set of AI principles which are put into practice in all projects we embark on within this innovative area – principles that include fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability,” he added.

“The past years have been an important learning curve where we got to network and collaborate with hundreds of entities, businesses, start-ups, and educators. Together with them, we have fostered a unique environment based on the principle that technology will always be the underlying driver of the future. This is why the main pillars of our work over the coming few years are going to be education, the fostering of more digital skills and AI,” continued Mr Anastasi.

“And this was why we wanted to be highly involved in the drafting of Malta’s AI Strategy. We already know how for transport-related projects, our AI capabilities will seek to ease the flow of traffic; when it comes to children’s education, AI will enable us to make learning more interactive; and with regard to tourist-related projects, AI will certainly deliver a better and more tailor-made experience to tourists visiting us.”

“The aim is to assist the country, its commercial community and its institutions achieve their goals sustainably, through the use of artificial intelligence and innovative technologies, with the ultimate goal of providing a better and more secure service to citizens. We have always been true to our commitments, and this is what we intend to do again,” he concluded.

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