Dec 11 2023

Tech Trends: Microsoft to Introduce AI to Many Government Workers

Through its Windows 11 operating system and Azure cloud solution, the tech giant is the first to give emerging artificial intelligence tools to state and local employees.

For state and local governments, Microsoft is poised to become one of the major suppliers of artificial intelligence solutions. Thanks to the integration of AI power into Microsoft Windows 11 and Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI in the Azure OpenAI service, state and local agencies soon will have more AI capabilities than ever before.

StateTech’s Mickey McCarter chatted with James Collins, Microsoft’s public sector leader for the Americas, about these capabilities. Collins, who served as state CIO of Delaware from 2014 to 2020, shared AI insights specific to government agencies.

STATETECH: Were you particularly struck by anything at the annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in October? Has anything stayed with you since then?

COLLINS: Besides connecting with customers and partners, what made me happy about the excellent exchanges hosted at NASCIO was the progression of the conversation around the future role of the CIO and the CIO organization to drive government transformation. Fostering an enterprise strategy for service delivery instead of a fragmented, agency-by-agency approach is a key area that the CIO can champion. I loved hearing about the focus on constituent experience and the increasing use of human-centered design principles. This represents a real shift from designing online services from the internal technology and business process perspectives to prioritizing the constituent experience. That shift is sure to drive totally different designs and outcomes. These concepts that have been germinating and nurtured over the years are finally coming to fruition.

No one was to blame, because technology was not advanced enough for the level we aimed for, and now we are in a position where customer needs and the technology innovations can enable us to work with customers and partners to achieve some of those aspirations.

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STATETECH: We often hear that citizens don’t care where the services come from; they just see one government and they want it to deliver their services.

COLLINS: The CIO drives that conversation in partnership with agency leaders. That’s why I love that most CIOs have moved into the cabinet level. They really need the support of that top executive, whether it’s a county executive, a mayor or a governor. Each agency is laser-focused on its mission. But the constituent sees it all as an enterprise. And the CIO is the one to lead that conversation for consistency and for more intelligent services. Government acts like it doesn’t know constituents from an online perspective, when it has all this meaningful information to tailor services for them.

STATETECH: How can Microsoft help state and local government agencies with these problems?

COLLINS: That’s a big part of what we do here in Microsoft Public Sector. People generally think of the Microsoft brand as email, Office applications, databases and operating systems. Those things are accurate, but we are so much more. We strive to be a reliable partner to help governments deal with the problems they face such as economic and workforce development, substance abuse, mental health, justice and public safety issues across the country. We still learn about real challenges in social and family services. Every administration wants to make people’s lives and businesses better. These issues all interrelate, and there is data throughout the system to provide insights into solutions. Those are the things that governments are grappling with. We love it when we get calls to help.

LEARN MORE: Here are some important security considerations for embracing AI.

We collaborated with an agency that had difficulties with car theft. They would file a report when they found a stolen car. When an officer had the time, they would mark the car as recovered in a database. But until then, other officers were still searching for that car because the database was not updated. And so, the owner would be stopped by the police for suspected of car theft, and they would have to prove their ownership. We helped them develop an app where they can update the database in real time when a car is recovered. Now, no more owners are suspected of stealing their own cars. This may seem like a minor issue, but it was a serious problem.

The good news is that AI has opened up so many new conversations with governments to help with their resource constraints as well as customer demand.

James Collins
Windows 11 is a critical building block for emerging technologies.”

James Collins Public Sector Leader for the Americas, Microsoft

STATETECH: Speaking of AI, I understand that Microsoft Windows 11 offers a great deal of AI power to government employees.

COLLINS: Windows 11 is the first operating system to have a digital assistant and to advance AI for every employee. Microsoft Copilot is baked in to how it operates. You can ask things in the search bar, and it simply executes when you click. You don’t have to find it. It is anticipating what you are going to do. Windows 11 is infused with AI, and you are going to see that grow more and more across the operating system.

STATETECH: Microsoft Windows is ubiquitous, and so many state and local government agencies soon will upgrade to Windows 11. How does it help them?

COLLINS: Windows 11 is a critical building block for emerging technologies. There are some things in Windows 11 that you can see and touch and feel, and there are some things under the hood — both of which are useful to state and local governments.

I went to an office recently, and an executive assistant had an impressive number of monitors in front of her. And she described to me how many systems she leveraged to fulfill her duties. Well, Windows 11 can make it easier for her to organize that work. It offers an enhanced user interface and secure integration across our platforms. Office, Azure and Teams are all integrated, and they work seamlessly together. Plus, it has improved performance overall.

The security improvements are also very important, starting at the hardware layer and going all the way through the technology stack. When you’re talking to Microsoft, you’re talking to the largest security provider in the world. Many attacks come through email, and we are the largest provider of email, which means that we must excel in the security space. Most folks are using our identity management tools across the enterprise. So, enhanced security is another critical component of Windows 11, and people should adopt it and enable updates.

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STATETECH: If I’m a state or local government agency, upgrading to Windows 11 might be complex. Do you have any advice for migrating a large enterprise to Windows 11?

COLLINS: As someone who was a CIO before, I know the challenges of updating large organizations. Sometimes, you have legacy systems that limit your options. You must rely on what you know works in your situation. If you have incompatible systems, then you must deal with that risk as part of the upgrade planning. It is essential to coordinate testing in collaboration with each agency to make sure that applications work in a test environment to avoid affecting services.

Sometimes, updating the systems was not a priority, but I think that has changed. We are really seeing more attacks with exploits that have no known fixes. We are seeing more danger from not having the most recent systems. So, besides enjoying all the benefits, a strong update also contributes a lot to the security and resilience of your organization. It’s simpler these days. You can use scripts and make runbooks to assist with the updating, and it’s not as intensive as it was before.

We have a Customer Success unit, and its mission is to make sure customers are getting value out of their investment in Microsoft platforms. It is a resource for government agencies to ask questions: What’s in this new operating system? How should we educate our enterprise? Our Customer Success unit proactively reaches out to talk to customers about what’s next. It can play a key role in an upgrade strategy.

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STATETECH: How can Microsoft Azure OpenAI service help state and local governments?

COLLINS: The development of the graphical user interface enabled everyone to instruct computers what to do without mastering computer commands. The GUI let people just use mouse clicks to guide machines, and now we are touching phones and tablets. That was a moment that made technology accessible to everybody. It boosted innovation tremendously. This is one of those moments with AI.

AI has been around for decades, but only very experienced tech people could use it. Now, the natural language interface opens it up to everybody. It’s very similar to the GUI. It’s putting a responsibility on all of us, including government, to re-imagine our work, re-imagine constituent services, re-imagine how government employees go about their work with Copilot and access to AI. That’s how I describe the moment.

With Azure OpenAI Service, we are enabling our customers to gain access to all of the latest models from our partner OpenAI, like GPT-4 Turbo, and do more to engage and leverage their own data.

Our enterprise AI tools provides the same role-based security and data controls that customers are accustomed to with Azure and our other products. When they bring that technology into their enterprise environment, customers have the same assurances that they would with all of our products.

DIVE DEEPER: A cybersecurity maturity model can light the way for state and local agencies.

People should be aware that, in some instances, using AI for search or otherwise could be capturing data to train the models. That is not the case with Microsoft enterprise AI tools. Our enterprise AI tools do not use customer data to train models, and the data is kept separate from the model. We assure our customers that their data is their data.

I thought I had a good understanding of what digital government could look like in the future, but when we launched AI earlier this year, I had to rethink everything. AI can create that enterprise experience without a bunch of custom programming and custom interfaces. AI can immediately change the constituent experience.

STATETECH: Can you share an example?

COLLINS: The mayor of New York City recently announced the MyCity Chatbot, built on Microsoft technology. We are working with the city on it, and we are super excited because it’s a perfect example of what we are discussing in this interview. They had a problem where it was tough to keep up with all the inquiries from people wanting to start businesses. Constituents are frustrated because time is money when they are trying to start a business. And city employees are frustrated because they are overburdened by demand.

Constituents want to serve themselves. So, the city has set up a chatbot that is leveraging its existing data to respond to inquiries in natural language. The MyCity Chatbot reviews every file and responds with answers to help people start and manage businesses in New York City.

We are excited about that application because it’s not simply conceptual; it’s in production and being used by one of the most densely populated cities in the nation. Similar solutions can quickly be deployed for governments globally for a more intelligent government experience.

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