Closing the Public Sector AI Skills Gap
By Alex Adamopoulos, Chairman and CEO of Emergn
The conversation surrounding the AI ‘compute divide’ between the private and public sector has created a huge level of buzz. The huge advances being made in the private sector, in the realms of AI, risk leaving the public sector behind. While understanding and remedying this is crucial, it is also important to bridge the ‘skills, mindset, and capabilities’ divide, which is prevalent between these two sectors. To end this divide, understanding the constituent issues that the public sector faces is vital. Indeed, it is only through this appreciation that the appropriate learnings from the private sector can be effectively transplanted.
A holistic approach is required to provide a solution to these interconnected issues. This approach needs to fully encompass not just technology but also training and a mindset change. This shift in mindset is critical to enable the public sector to build its own capabilities from within. Moreover, such an approach is the only way to avoid further widening the divide between the private and public sectors.
The private sector is moving ahead fast, which is highlighted by a report conducted by Emergn which states that 50% of private sector companies believe AI will be adopted by their organisations within the next year.
Additionally, the cost-of-living crisis has highlighted the need to eliminate wastage in the public expenditure. And yet we have witnessed numerous missed opportunities for improving services and innovation, which has come at a high cost.
We believe we know how to solve this divide between the public and private sectors. It means looking at a few key areas:
Comprehensive learning and development.
A more extensive and continuous learning and development strategy must be implemented into the public sector. The ‘One Big Thing’ campaign conducted by the government was a positive first step in bridging the sector divide but more concerted and deliberate steps are necessary.
Adopting iterative learning and agile methodologies.
There is a need for a more agile approach to the adoption of, and experimentation with, new technologies fundamental for the sustained growth of the public sector. Using the Steve Jobs formula will offer a prioritisation strategy, providing an agile and methodological approach; “Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with, and then progress to more complex ones.” On occasion, governments are forced to act quickly to develop legislation and provide security; this can bring with it the risk of seeking to do too much too soon. Establishing governmental priorities will make them more agile and align them to successful private sector models that quickly deliver positive returns through a reduction in complexity.
A heavy emphasis on systems thinking.
Governments must build integrated, cross-functional teams to generate holistic understanding of technological systems. This approach mitigates the siloed aspects of isolated taskforces which operate in a vacuum at the centre of governments. Product-led thinking is vital, cross-functional teams must coalesce around customer needs. This creates a multi-dimensional approach, allowing for a holistic understanding of issues and solutions.
Governments must think beyond simply hiring AI ‘heavyweights’.
Resources, talent, and people are necessary to properly adopt new technologies. Governments can hire all the ‘big’ AI names, but only through a holistic and deliberate approach will technologies be effectively integrated into the public sector.
These four steps are crucial for bridging the gap between the public and private sector. The computational and skills divides have been steadily growing due to mismanagement, misplaced efforts, and ineffective methodologies. There must be a radical re-think of the public sector’s approach, allowing it to align and share the success of the private sector. Bringing private sector skills, capabilities, and mindsets into the culture of the public sector will mean that our public services will fully benefit from the opportunities that AI presents.