Survey: AI ‘Mission Critical’ to 70% of Public Sector IT Decision Makers

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Artificial intelligence and machine learning are far more than buzzwords in the government space.

Projects and applications involving artificial intelligence tools and machine learning are increasing among public sector departments, as are the technologies’ importance among federal IT decision makers, according to a newly released survey.

The survey, conducted by Texas-based Rackspace Technologies, found 7 in 10 IT decision-makers across the public sector consider AI and ML “most mission critical” to their business strategies. That was the top among categories for more than 1,800 IT leaders surveyed, exceeding cybersecurity (66%), data science (62%) and cloud computing (59%).

“As AI/ML budgets continue to increase, we are seeing projects proliferate across more areas of the organization, and it’s clear that the AI/ML is advancing in its importance and visibility,” said Jeff DeVerter, chief technology evangelist at Rackspace Technology. “At the same time, the research makes clear that many organizations still struggle with getting stakeholder buy-in, addressing issues of data quality, and finding the skills, resources and talent to take advantage of the AI/ML’s full potential.”

Survey respondents indicated several reasons why they felt AI and ML were so highly valued. Two-thirds said AI/ML helped reduce expenses, and 65% said the technologies had a positive impact on brand reputation, while 60% said the tech helped generate revenue.

Further proof of the technologies’ importance comes in the form of dollars spent. More than 7 in 10 respondents (71%) indicated that between 6% and 10% of their budgets were dedicated to AI/ML projects—far higher than the 1% to 10% of their budgets that were dedicated to AI/ML in 2020.

The most common uses for AI/ML, according to respondents, were in improving speed and efficiency (47%), personalizing content and serving citizens (41%), increasing revenue (39%) and understanding public reach efforts (38%).

As with other new technologies, respondents indicated significant barriers to adoption, however. Almost one in three expressed difficulty aligning AI/ML to their missions, and more than half said they intend to bolster internal skillsets and hire talent to better improve AI/ML use. The survey also indicates a disconnect between c-suite personnel and executive leadership.

According to the survey, 58% of IT staff grasp AI/ML benefits compared to 42% in operations and senior management positions.