Interview with Doug Petroshius, Expert on Robot Process Automation & Local Government Adrian Rubin February 18, 2019 Tech 163 4 minute readMajor changes are coming to the world of local government technology. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligent automation (IA) are poised to make a huge impact on every area of local government. Through the use of AI and software robots, valuable public dollars can be spent on providing enhanced services. Doug Petroshius, President of the AI tech-startup eAllianceGov, relates the ways that cities, villages, towns, townships, school districts, park district, fire protection districts, and all other units of local government can save money and capitalize on technological advances thanks to AI and IA. What are some of the most popular uses for AI technology in Local Government today? There are many areas where AI systems have made their mark. Chatbots are AI programs that can respond to customers’ concerns in real time. These bots are able to answer basic questions about voting locations, water billing, recreation programs, and other information such as zoning regulations. Depending on the sophistication of the chatbot, people may not be aware that they are speaking to a software robot. If the question is too complex for the chatbot to handle, it can seamlessly switch to a human operator, providing the human with a history of the conversation. Chatbots are an excellent money-saving innovation and they can help to build customer goodwill through responsiveness. The other growing trend for AI in local government is intelligent automation using software robots, most commonly referred to as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This technology eliminates repetitive, manual digital processes using a software robot which resides on an agency server. This software works just as a human would from the front-end of applications, moving from one application to another. RPA provides a fast ROI to government entities and allow human workers to focus on more meaningful work. What about the use of AI technologies to enhance government decision making? Local government leaders make dozens of decisions every month during their council or board meetings. Many decisions are made in short windows with data provided by their staff or contract professionals such as engineers. In the future, AI will be used by leaders of local government and their professional staff and consultants to enhance their decision-making. If they need a traffic study done, they will perform the study and then use a database of other examples combined with machine learning to help identify the many ways accidents can happen. While a consultant can do this, it takes time; usually months. AI is able to shorten this window by running analyses faster and more frequently than a human could possibly do. This technology will enhance decision-making by community leaders in a way that they have never had before. Another form of AI is known as reinforcement learning. Instead of an engineer providing the AI with numerous examples of other studies, the AI trains itself based on a variety of parameters. For example, if a city needed to engineer a water main system, the AI could be programmed with a certain area, distance, elevation, anticipated pressure needed and other limitations and the AI would run scenario after scenario in rapid suggestion learning from each mistake in construction of the water main system. It would learn from instances where the water mains would break and leak and take that data and try again. This type of machine learning would normally take humans years to accomplish, while the AI can accomplish it in less than a month. What are some uses of Robotic Process Automation for Local Government? RPA is rapidly growing in the private sector and the use cases there are transferable to the public sector. Like in the private sector, RPA can be used in the public sector to automate finance and human resources tasks such as journal entries, invoice processing, bank reconciliation, personnel action forms, payroll, job applications, and many other manual and repetitive tasks. Processes unique to local government include updates to Public Works asset management systems, traffic accident report entry, and fire pre-plan updates. There are also many instances in local government where two systems are unable to integrate with each other. This is where RPA comes in handy as it is a non-invasive, front-facing application and can do the work without the need for back-end integrations. Won’t automation kill jobs? This a myth and an unfortunate negative connotation associated with automation. In the case of local government, eAllianceGov has seen how much work governments are required to do and what little resources are provided to accomplish them. When automation is applied to local government jobs are not eliminated. Instead, capacity is added which allows employees to be more productive and provide better services to citizens. Further, employee satisfaction increases when automation is introduced into a local government workplace. This is because the software robot is eliminating dreaded manual tasks that the employee does not want to do and instead allows them to perform work that they enjoy, such as those which require creativity or judgment. People need to also keep a macro perspective when considering the impact of intelligent automation in organizations. First, all of the recessions in the history of the United States were not caused by automation. They were caused by some other factor. Second, at the time of this writing in February 2019 we are living in one of the lowest unemployment rates in our nation’s history, which shows that automation is not impacting job loss. Third, historical automation does not eliminate jobs. Byron Reese, author of the book, The Fourth Age, explains that when automated teller machines (ATMs) were introduced, the general opinion was that bank tellers were going to vanish. But instead, there are more bank tellers today than there were before ATMs. What are other forms of automation for local government? The zenith of automation is Block Chain. While this term has been used a lot lately, there is a lot of applicability in the public sector. For example, block chain is effective at authentication and often times local government is required to provide certifications. In the case of one county in Nevada, block chain is being used to automate the process for providing birth certificates and marriage licenses. Other uses for blockchain can be found in the whitepaper on the topic published by the International City/County Management Association at www.icma.org and the Government Blockchain Association at www.gbaglobal.org. Doug Petroshius is an expert in the realm of AI technologies. He encourages local government of all types to look into the use of AI and robotics to expedite their processes and raise the bottom line.