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Accenture’s Brussels AI lab to focus on European public sector and health

Accenture will use its Brussels AI lab to test AI and generative AI's application in the European public sector

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Accenture has created an artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Brussels to develop services across Europe focused on the health, public sector and NATO as part of a $3bn AI investment announced by Accenture in June.

The AI lab and innovation studio will test and evaluate potential AI and generative AI-based services for the European public sector, including the UK.

The lab is a dedicated space in an existing Accenture office in Belgium’s capital. When it fully launches in September, it will have a core team of 25 people based on site, with around 90 more across Europe offering their expertise in technologies such as AI, computer vision, natural language processing, responsible AI and statistics modelling.

“[These are] all the various dimensions required,” added Bryan Rich, health and public sector industry lead at Accenture.

The lab was soft launched internally in June. It is part of Accenture’s recent announcement that it would spend $3bn on its data and AI practice, including adding 40,000 AI experts to the workforce, making acquisitions, and training existing staff.

Rich said there is increasing adoption of AI and generative AI in the public sector, adding that the lab will help public sector organisations to buy and take advantage of the technologies.

“This is being driven by the explosion in the availability of commercially available enterprise data and the need for organisations with [restricted budgets] to get the resources to unlock that data to get benefits across areas such as social services, postal, energy, and health, for example,” he said.

He added that it will support public sector organisation taking on the new challenge of procuring AI services effectively. “AI and generative AI are relatively new things in government procurement. How do you buy AI services, what are the skills and procurement models needed?”

Rich said there is also a challenge for suppliers around how they price and sell AI-based services.

Reflecting on these challenges, he said public sector organisations don’t need people with generative AI and computer vision skills sitting in their office all the time, but people who can tap into the skills when needed. “The people with these advanced skills are usually working across multiple projects, so there is a different relationship between the buyer and seller of services.”

Rich said a good example of how AI can be used in the public sector is in social service, where there are huge backlogs due to its complex nature. “How do you prioritise and how do you spot fraudulent claims? AI and generative AI can be used to improve the human worker’s capacity in this process,” he commented, adding that logistics and planning in public sector organisations can also benefit from AI.

But he noted that there are real challenges to public sector organisations looking to harness AI and generative AI with benefits and risks: “It is like electricity, with a positive and negative charge. The positive charge is all the goodness it can bring in terms of efficiency, optimisation and prediction, but obviously there are some risks privacy, bias, and price. It is expensive, so you have to evaluate before you deploy.”

“What we currently see are targeted uses of AI and generative AI, because people are still getting used to it,” said Rich.

AI’s use will inevitably broaden, with increasing demand for AI-based services from governments as they face challenges around energy security, food security, national security and cyber security, said Rich. “There are these big categories of work where we think there is going to be a significant addressable market emerging over the next 10 years for a number of different geopolitical reasons.”

In June, Accenture said it would use the data and AI practice to develop services for 19 specific industry sectors based on AI to take advantage of what it described as “the generative AI megatrend” in its recent technology vision report.

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