- Cloud technology refers to the delivery of technological resources on demand via the Internet.
- During COVID-19, cloud technology became a lifeline for governments needing to provide urgent services from emergency hotlines to online education.
- With cloud technology, governments can acquire technology from cloud providers on an as-needed basis, and quickly respond to their citizens' needs without needing to buy and maintain their own data centres and servers.
COVID-19 forced governments around the world to deliver vital public services in unprecedented ways, and to experiment with digital technologies on an unforeseen scale. As citizens turned to their public healthcare providers, educational institutions and other public sector organizations for help during the crisis, they often collided with overburdened and outdated IT systems. However, many public service providers quickly adapted to this soaring demand for help and information, and implemented innovative solutions that helped people access critical resources.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides cloud services to public sector organizations around the world, and witnessed first-hand how they stepped up to the challenge. The pandemic sparked public sector innovation in the form of small pilots and large-scale transformations. Though they were the result of an emergency, many of these ideas have the potential to effect lasting change far beyond the crisis. This is particularly the case for public sector solutions built on the cloud.
The term "cloud computing" refers to the on-demand delivery of technological resources via the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing. Instead of buying, owning, and maintaining their own data centers and servers, organizations can acquire technology from cloud providers on an as-needed basis. This allows an organization to quickly access resources – from servers to machine learning services – on demand, which can drive down costs and speed up an organization’s pace of innovation.
The following examples offer a glimpse of cloud technologies we may continue to see across the public sector as the world returns to normal.
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Cloud-powered citizen hotlines
Even in the age of texting, many people call a public hotline in a crisis. As regions and countries around the world went into lockdown, this placed a crushing burden on public call centers. In West Virginia in the United States, for example, the call volume to the state’s unemployment insurance call center spiked in March, and callers waited for hours to file unemployment claims.
Cloud technology can solve this problem. Unlike traditional, phone-based call centers, cloud-based contact centers provide a scalable and flexible way to support customers across many channels whether over the phone, through social media, or through chat. They also support remote work for contact center agents – all they need is a supported web browser and an internet connection to engage with customers from anywhere.
By leveraging embedded machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, organizations get powerful real-time and historical analytics, helping agencies monitor call volumes and use their resources effectively. AI also automates frequently asked questions, eliminating the need for human interaction and lowering the number of callers who require help from a live agent.
With our assistance, Comune di Codogno, an Italian municipality in Lombardy, built a cloud-based contact center in less than a week to route calls directly to municipality staff who could respond to citizens’ questions about COVID-19.
In the United States, we and our partner Smartronix helped 14 states modernize the unemployment insurance benefits process in a matter of days or even hours. The Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance set up a cloud-based contact center in a single afternoon and trained its agents in just 30 minutes so they could work from home. The state also built a statewide contact center to manage about 200,000 daily calls fielded by more than 1,000 contact center agents.
In West Virginia, where callers had spent hours waiting for help, a cloud-based contact center went live in less than three days. Over the following three days, the average wait time was reduced from hours to less than 60 seconds.
Machine learning for hospitals
Cloud services paired with AI helped healthcare providers continue safely serving patients at a time of overwhelming demand, crowded hospitals, and exhausted frontline workers.
Roomie Bot, developed by Mexico City-based startup Roomie IT, is a robot which screens patients in the hospital waiting room. Powered by AWS’s cloud technology, Roomie Bot rolls its way through the waiting room to ask questions, takes temperatures, and uses sensors to detect symptoms such as shortness of breath. Those metrics are then sent to AWS to be stored in the cloud and analyzed later using AI services, saving time and limiting healthcare workers’ exposure. In addition, the robot uses facial recognition tools in order to identify people, objects, and spaces, so it can successfully navigate around a hospital.
In the U.S., Europe and Latin America, one of our partners, software company Whyline, has been working with hospitals – as well as banks, retailers and governments – to reduce overcrowding and congestion using AI and cloud computing. Their solution virtualizes the entire queuing process and scheduling by allowing customers to see the live wait-times for their destination and enter the line remotely from any location. By being hosted in the cloud, Whyline gives customers flexibility to access the service from any device connected to the Internet.
Cloud computing for financial relief
In addition to unparalleled health challenges, COVID-19 brought disruption to the global economy, directly impacting consumers and financial institutions. Cloud technology has helped the public sector manage record-breaking volumes and skyrocketing demand for financial relief.
As governments around the world implemented economic relief packages, they had to quickly build loan application portals that could scale to meet unprecedented demand.
Bpifrance, a French public bank for investment, was mandated by the government to manage the distribution of State Guaranteed Loans for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in France during the pandemic. Our team partnered with cloud technology firm Padok to support Bpifrance, helping the bank set up a platform in just five days for SMEs to apply for financial assistance.
Bpifrance normally receives 12,000 credit requests per year via online banking. With cloud computing tools, it was able to process 75,000 requests in just three weeks, with peaks at 8,000 requests daily.
In the United States, the nonprofit Orange County United Way used cloud technology to build an application to allow individuals to submit requests for financial assistance to their Homelessness Prevention Program via a smartphone or personal computer. With limits on staff and resources, Orange County United Way needed a platform to manage this process that would not inundate a call center or create lengthy queue times, and would allow financial relief to arrive in a timely manner to those who need it the most. Over the course of two weeks, Orange County United Way built and launched an application that automates this process and allows citizens to receive financial assistance faster and more efficiently.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.
The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.
The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.
Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.
Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.
Learning in the cloud
As schools all over the world closed their doors due to COVID-19, policy makers, parents, teachers, and administrators turned to technology to help students continue their education, experimenting with new online learning models to keep students engaged.
Some organizations used cloud technology to handle the increase in demand for online classes. The Bahrain Ministry of Education, for example, moved its learning management system EduNet to Amazon Web Services in order to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of students. In Latin America, the Universidad de Los Lagos in Chile took a similar approach. In less than a week, they expanded their learning management system to support over 11,000 students by moving it to our platform.
Heading into the upcoming school year in most parts of the world, schools, colleges and universities are looking at hybrid approaches that blend in-classroom with online learning. In this model, cloud computing continues to play a role in securely and reliably delivering curriculum to students at scale. When it comes to education, there’s no time for downtime.
The cloud gives teachers and students anywhere, anytime access to data and applications on their own connected device to enable them to work remotely. With cloud computing infrastructure, institutions can quickly scale learning management systems, launch virtual classrooms to upskill educators, set up remote help desks, and more.
The solutions public sector organizations created during this crisis were built under extremely challenging circumstances, but they offer a playbook for the future. As communities around the world continue to combat and emerge from the pandemic, the solutions created in response to COVID-19 will help chart a new path, ensuring the long-term resilience of public sector organizations and helping them accomplish missions, lower costs, become more agile, and innovate faster.