Ask the Experts: Tips to Successfully Implement AI in Government with Jazz Pabla

In the latest edition of UrbanLogiq’s “Ask the Experts” series, we get into the intricacies of deploying artificial intelligence within government sectors. Our discussion encompasses valuable lessons learned, best practices for success, and the critical role of data governance in ensuring the effective integration of AI. 

Jazz Pabla, CIO and Director of IT for the City of Kelowna

Meet the Expert: Jazz Pabla , is the CIO and Director of IT for the City of Kelowna. He is an innovator driven by a passion for turning ideas into reality. With extensive experience in IT in both the public and private sector Pabla has led the charge in digital transformation for Kelowna. Pabla works to harness the power of technology and AI to transform the city’s operations and citizen engagement. 

The City of Kelowna is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. But with under 300,000 people it is still considered a relatively small community. According to Pabla, that’s an advantage. 

“If you’re a smaller community, don’t be afraid. Especially those communities that feel like they’re smaller and they have smaller budgets,” says Pabla. “You’re actually in the best position because it’s easier for you to move left to right. Some of the bigger cities are going to have a challenge here.”

Embracing AI to improve the citizen experience

Pabla has leaned into that advantage and quickly moved the needle by implementing new technologies. Pabla and his team have cemented the City of Kelowna as a leader in adopting artificial intelligence to improve city operations. Benefiting both residents and staff by making everyday tasks simpler and more efficient.

We see AI taking a lot of information that’s all over the place and giving a really good custom experience.”

At the heart of this transformation are AI-powered chatbots, providing residents with instant answers to a variety of questions. The chatbots make it significantly easier for people to get the information they need when they need it. 

Internally, Kelowna is leveraging AI to streamline operations and address talent shortages. By automating routine tasks and providing support in areas like permit processing and snow removal inquiries, the city is not only becoming more efficient but also enhancing service delivery, creating a more responsive and effective municipal ecosystem. 

“It’s just changing the way we interact with our citizens,” says Pabla.

And they’re not done. Pabla says there is much more they want to do with AI in the future. They’re aiming to enhance 211 service across multiple platforms like SMS, social media, and direct messaging to make City Hall more accessible. 

Internally, the city plans to leverage AI to support its rapid growth efficiently. Also address talent gaps and augment the capabilities they’re not able to fill. 

While some are concerned AI will replace people and take away jobs, Pabla says he doesn’t see that happening.

“I think some of the rhetoric around ChatGPT has caused some issues around people thinking that jobs are going to disappear. There’s just so much work to do right now that we just don’t imagine that happening anytime soon.”

Listen to frontline staff

By prioritizing the perspectives of frontline city employees, Pabla says the potential for innovation grows.

“AI and digital transformation needs to come from the people. At the end of the day, you’re changing their world. So let them be the driver of that change,” Pabla says.

Frontline staff are the ones with direct access to the public. This approach ensures that technological advancements are guided by the needs and preferences of those it’s meant to benefit. 

Pabla says the incentive to move forward with AI in the city was with the clear intent to transform public service into a more responsive and citizen-focused experience.

Don’t be afraid to fail, then pivot

Pabla learned the importance of moving quickly, embracing failure and learning to pivot. He says those were key lessons from his experience leading the charge with AI at the City of Kelowna.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re going to fail, fail early, and then just pivot. We don’t even talk about it as failures. We’re just pivoting left to right as we learn,” says Pabla.

Pabla emphasizes that the urgency to act quickly with innovation is crucial to keep the momentum going. “The one thing about innovation” he says, “if you have an innovative idea and you’re going to wait a year, sometimes that idea just disappears.”

He says the question then becomes, how do you take that idea and immediately turn it into action? It’s important to remember that the goal should be progress not perfection. 

Reflecting on Kelowna’s AI journey starting last year, Pabla notes that they made a massive pivot and it paid off.

“The situations change, issues change. The problems of yesterday aren’t necessarily the problems of today or tomorrow,” says Pabla.

Pabla highlights the value of moving ideas forward with continuous improvement.  Otherwise innovative ideas are lost to hesitation in the pursuit of perfection. When they should be tried and tested. 

Don’t forget about data management

For public agencies exploring the leap into AI, Pabla says the key is to get your data in order. Organizing your agency’s data is the foundational step that can propel AI forward.

While 2023 was the year Kelowna’s charge towards AI was deployed, the effort began in 2021, with improvements to their records management, laying a groundwork that later eased the adoption of AI tools like Copilot.  

“Little did we know that when we turned on Copilot, it didn’t take us very long to get up and running because our structure was already well done.” 

This experience he said highlights a key insight: early investment in data governance can significantly facilitate the deployment of AI, demonstrating the critical link between effective data management and an organization’s progress when adopting new technologies.

Garbage in, garbage out

As noted above, data governance is paramount in the successful deployment of AI. Pabla credits the city’s proactive approach on the organization of their data to the successful integration of AI and wants other organizations to understand why it is so critical. 

“Data plays a massive role. Without data governance or just having an understanding of data, AI is not going to give consistent answers, which will just give a negative perception of AI,” says Pabla. 

There is a direct impact between well-structured data governance and AI’s reliability which in turn relates to the public’s trust in it. 

“A lot of the issues we’ve seen with some of the answers that we get back, it’s just that we don’t have our data organized quite well,” says Pabla. 

The need for robust data governance is one of the challenges Pabla says organizations will face when it comes to AI implementation. 

“A rapid deployment of data governance strategies, I think, is going to be some of the challenges that organizations will see. Garbage in, garbage out.” 

The foundation of any effective AI system starts with the quality and organization of the data it processes, reinforcing the importance of strategic data management practices.

An opportunity to lead, not follow

Pabla sees AI as an opportunity to try something new to improve the citizen and employee experience within City Hall.  Leaning in on AI adoption for the City of Kelowna has paid off and he’s encouraging others working in the public sector to seize the moment.

“Just try something different; you get to set the direction you don’t always have to be following someone else’s lead,” says Pabla, encouraging governments to shift from being fast followers to leaders with AI.  

Given the wealth of valuable data at their disposal, Pabla says government agencies are in a prime position to drive better outcomes for their citizens by leveraging AI technology. 

Moreover, Pabla says witnessing AI in action has had a transformative effect on staff. 

“The great thing about it is now that our staff see the power of AI,” he says. “Now they also see the power of a data governance strategy.” 

Addressing public concerns

With anything new, there will always be those who question it and have concerns, especially in public service. Now, add the media attention around the use of AI and innovation at the City of Kelowna, there are bound to be questions. 

Pabla embraces this. To citizens, it’s no secret what is going on in their city because clear and open communication has been Pabla’s strategy when dealing with the public.

He asserts,“we get some feedback on the concerns around AI, and so we answer those concerns the best we can. We’ll just clearly explain what we’re using AI and what the data is and what its purpose is.” 

He says that’s been the right approach and it’s validating to hear the positive feedback from citizens.

“To be able to just answer every single call and have no wait times, and you know exactly when your road is going to be clean has a positive impact,” says Pabla.

How UrbanLogiq helps 

UrbanLogiq’s data analytics platform helps governments make the most out of their existing data by breaking down data silos and integrating diverse data sets, to inform better decision making. Our end to end data platform sets the standard around robust data management while addressing concerns around the responsible use of AI, security, compliance and integrity of data. This approach enhances operational efficiency and transparency to ensure safe and equitable communities. 

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About Ask the Experts

Urbanlogiq’s ‘Ask the Experts’ series launched in the summer of 2022. It taps into the knowledge of industry experts to explore a variety of subjects. These include artificial intelligence, data science, public safety, transportation planning, and more, offering insights on a variety of timely topics. ‘Ask the Experts’ sets out to provide valuable information and resources through in-person or virtual interviews and blogs.

If you would like to be a guest on the series, contact UrbanLogiq’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Luisa Alvarez.