“Shaping” the 4th Industrial Revolution with CGI

  • We spoke to Pete Wilson, Programme & Delivery Director at CGI here in Northern Ireland, who has over 30 years of tech delivery experience.

    Pete’s focus is on bringing the latest advanced technologies to bear such that CGI’s clients can remain both relevant and competitive. As a former WEF 4th Industrial Revolution ‘Shaper’, he is particularly enthusiastic about how AI and automation can deliver benefits to business and society at large.

    Founded nearly 50 years ago, CGI is as one of the world's independent largest IT and business consulting firms. The firm has been busy expanding its growing UK business into Northern Ireland by extending its Digital Services Delivery Centre into Belfast, adding to its existing workforce of over 6,000 people throughout the UK. Through this new Belfast centre, CGI is expanding its client base in both the public and private sector across Northern Ireland, adding to a portfolio of clients throughout the UK and Ireland.

    Why has CGI come to NI?

    “Northern Ireland is strategically well positioned to engage in the transformative shifts occurring in both the business and societal landscapes, primarily driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). We are currently in the initial stages of this revolution, and the recent public emergence of Generative AI technologies like ChatGPT has notably captured the public's attention, prompting a keen awareness and interest. The huge advances that we’ve made in the fields of Big Data, AI & Automation, and the commercialisation of these advances are really starting to gain traction and will undoubtably impact on the world of work in the coming decades.

    “Here in Northern Ireland, we are very proud of the availability of a highly skilled and educated workforce. We know that many professionals have received world-class training and education which makes them well-suited for AI and automation-related roles, both in terms of working with, and delivering, AI related solutions. CGI’s decision to build out its growing Digital Services Delivery Centre is also based on Northern Ireland’s geographic location with strong connectivity to both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, great R&D opportunities, and its proximity to its key markets.

    What is CGI’s perspective on the deployment of AI & Automation technologies?

    “The world of work is on the brink of major transformations thanks to the advent of process automation powered by machine learning and predictive analytics. As a comprehensive technology and consulting company, we are actively collaborating with our clients and partners to not only implement these technologies effectively but also to ensure that their advantages resonate with both our clients' customers and their workforce.

    “One of our key focuses is on ensuring that we work alongside our client’s domain experts in capturing not only the routine processes that can be automated, but also the ‘edge cases’ that call on staff intuition, gained over many years. We are very aware that there are limits to what can be automated in organisations, and our approach is to explore those limits along with our clients.

    Why is it important to adopt AI and Automation? Is it feasible to disregard these technologies and stick with what we know?

    “Neglecting AI and automation in the workplace raises several moral and ethical concerns. It can be viewed as discriminatory or exclusionary, as these technologies enhance workplace accessibility and inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. While automation may replace certain jobs, it also enhances the quality and safety of work, making the avoidance of it an ethical concern, potentially exposing workers to dangerous tasks.

    “Furthermore, failing to embrace automation results in costly inefficiencies and resource wastage. In a world with finite resources, choosing not to optimize processes and reduce waste may be considered morally irresponsible. There are other ethical considerations, including stifled innovation, missed opportunities for reduced energy consumption, and decreased global competitiveness.

    “Perhaps most importantly, we must consider the impact on employee well-being. Automation alleviates workloads and reduces stress for employees. Neglecting its implementation can have adverse effects on employee mental health.

    What are the key challenges that you face in terms of driving progress via automation?

    “Automating business processes in the workplace offers numerous benefits, but it also presents several challenges. Firstly, there's the initial cost and time investment required for selecting, implementing, and integrating automation tools.

    “In addition, resistance to change among employees is a common hurdle. Employees may fear job displacement or may struggle to adapt to new technologies. I often hear that certain processes and function requires “human intuition, built up over many years of experience and it can that can’t be automated”. Not all business processes are easily automatable. Processes that involve complex decision-making, creativity, or human interaction can be challenging to replicate with automation. Striking the right balance between human and automated tasks is a constant challenge.

    “While automation offers significant advantages, addressing the challenges of cost, employee resistance, data security, integration, process suitability, and ongoing maintenance is essential for successful implementation in the workplace.

    Can you give us some examples of what CGI is doing in the Digital Transformation space?

    “Absolutely. We worked with HMCTS to launch a new digital service to improve the juror summoning process in England and Wales. It has transformed the way citizens respond to their summons for jury service.

    The jury summoning process was very paper intensive. Summons letters were sent to all potential jurors and follow up communications were made by telephone, email, and post. User research found that many citizens would prefer the option to reply to their Jury Summons online, in line with their expectations of a modern public service. So a new service was designed in line with the government service standard. This directly supported the HMCTS transformation programme for the courts service across England and Wales - to modernise and simplify the justice experience for citizens and staff.

    The service has been deployed to all courts in England and Wales and now enables citizens (including appointed helpers) to reply to their Jury Summons online through a web application hosted on on their own phone, tablet, or computer.

    Benefits include citizens making fewer errors when replying using the digital service, lower printing and postage costs, increased used of the available online materials to help prepare for jury service, and HMCTS Juror officers completing their work faster and spending less time correcting errors on summons replies.

     “In a further example of a groundbreaking use of AI and analytics, we are working with Ordnance Survey in Combe Martin, Devon with the aim of improving beach water quality, previously rated as "poor" due to sewage and fertilizer contamination. CGI is using AI and sensors along waterways to detect and prevent pollution. The AI model combines sensor data and satellite imagery, achieving a 91.5% accuracy in predicting pollution, promising cleaner water for locals and tourists.

    “Such examples are proof of how AI and automation can benefit business, government, and citizens. At CGI, we continue to invest in these technologies through our Emerging Technologies Practice and we look forward to bringing this expertise to the citizens of Northern Ireland.”

    This article appears in the Big Data edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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