Organizations of all types are facing increasing challenges in dealing with a rapidly changing world. From pandemics to supply chain shortages, increasing political instability, challenges in dealing with housing, health, transportation, and finances, state and local governments are feeling increasing pressure to do more with less. One of the key assets that organizations have is their vast quantities of data, which remain mostly untapped. Government agencies are realizing that tapping the power of that data will allow them to provide more effective and efficient services, gain insights into potential threats or changing trends, and add more value to their offerings to respond more quickly in a rapidly changing world.
At the upcoming State government Chief Data Officers panel at AI in Government on April 21, 2022, Patrick McLoughlin, Chief Data Officer for the US State of Maryland shares his insights in how state governments can build a data-driven culture to help address many of these needs and challenges. In this Forbes article, he shares his insights into the approaches government agencies can take as well as additional insights that will be shared on the upcoming panel.
What are some innovative ways you’re leveraging data and AI to benefit your agency?
Patrick McLouglin: An area we have been exploring is AI’s place is search based analytics. Analytics can be complicated to the general business user and leveraging the capabilities of AI to break down those complications providing actionable insights from our data. By allowing users to simply ask business questions of the data and get a response, rather than rely on a data analyst or BI developer to provide visualizations, a report for interpretation, or direct answers to questions, direct insights are delivered to the business, streamlining the information process.
How are you leveraging data to help on your journey to AI?
Patrick McLouglin: We’re continuing to build a data-driven culture throughout the state. Agencies across the state have really pushed to leverage data as a strategic asset to solve complete problems. As a result, we have effective stories to tell of how data has help us improve services delivered across the state. As the awareness of data helping to solve problems becomes more prevalent, it becomes easier justify new and innovative ways to deliver insights, including AI technologies like ML, deep learning, and NLP.
How do you identify which problem area(s) to start with for your data and cognitive technology projects?
Patrick McLouglin: The first place to start is the challenge being faced or the question(s) that currently cannot be answered. Once we understand the problem, we assess the data available and its characteristics and quality. We also look at what data would be useful and if that data can be captured. Where are the gaps and how do we fill them, and what is the right technology to solve the problem?
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What are some of the unique opportunities the public sector has when it comes to data and AI?
Patrick McLouglin: The public sector is flush with opportunities for leveraging AI and data because our purpose is to provide services to the citizens of our state. We have a lot of data and many problems to help solve. Staff resources can be a challenge, so leveraging machine learning, AI, and Natural Language Processing can help us meet many of these challenges, but at a scale that we otherwise would not be able to address.
What are some use cases you can share where you successfully have applied AI?
Patrick McLouglin: AI has been applied in a number of areas across the state including areas to streamline and improves how services and information are shared. Mary, the maryland.gov chatbot allows customers to quickly access state service information, including how to get business and professional licenses or access the latest info on COVID. Additionally, AI technologies have been implemented by many of our agencies including IT, Health, Human Services, and Transportation.
Can you share some of the challenges when it comes to AI and ML in the public sector?
Patrick McLouglin: A big challenge is ensuring that we’re using the right technology to solve the problem. The use case for AI and ML must help solve the problem at hand, rather than simply be implemented for the sake of using innovative technologies. When AI and ML are applied in the right use case, it provides opportunities to point to success and build momentum for additional projects. If it is applied under the wrong use case, it is much harder to get buy-in for additional adoption if the technologies did not help solve a problem.
How do you leverage analytics, automation, and AI together at your agency?
Patrick McLouglin: We leverage analytics, automation, and AI together to effectively distribute information in a streamlined manner. We automate our data delivery to our analytics platforms through ETL/ELT process, providing not only a scheduled update to the data, but also data updating, validation, and quality checks. AI is leveraged, in the form of ML projects, search-based analytics, or NLP projects to deliver that information to the users.
How are you navigating privacy, trust, and security concerns around the use of AI?
Patrick McLouglin: Privacy, trust, and security are at the front of all data and technologies projects in Maryland. We’re taking a collective approach around data and technology, including AI, where we have direct collaboration with the State CDO, State Chief Privacy Officer, State Chief Information Security Officer, and Chief Information Officer to ensure that we are regularly addressing concerns of privacy, trust, security, and technology. Additionally, we’ve created designated data, privacy, and security positions at each agency to ensure an open line of communication is in place. All challenges, approaches, and processes are effectively communicated to their respective agencies and any issues can be brought to the statewide officers to address.
What are you doing to develop an AI ready workforce?
Patrick McLouglin: Much of the work in in socializing what AI and ML can do – it’s part of the broad education and data literacy program development, informing our end uses with what is possible, which have help provide use cases for implantation to help solve business problems. Key to this is making technologies available to provide tangible interaction AI/ML capabilities, without overwhelming users with process – make the interaction as simple as possible. We’re also continuing to build our internal skillsets through hiring, as well as partnerships with some of the universities across Maryland, where we bring interns in from their Data Science programs over the course consecutive semesters.
What AI technologies are you most looking forward to in the coming years?
Patrick McLouglin: A continued expansion and adoption of search-based analytics. It may seem simple, but providing an environment where end users search data the same way we use search engines like google, will really help us get to a place where we’re truly thriving in a data driven culture.
Patrick McLoughlin, CDO of Maryland, will be sharing additional insights along with other state CDOs including Ravi Krishnan, CDO of North Dakota, and Marcus Thorton, Interim CDO of Virginia, at the upcoming AI in Government event on April 21, 2022.