Five ways this US$1 billion AI investment is changing government


Exclusive interview with Remco den Heijer, Vice President of ASEAN at SAS.

When anyone spends a billion dollars, the world takes notice. But combine that investment with artificial intelligence, and it really starts to make waves.

SAS, the world’s leading analytics company, has done just this, and already it’s helping to transform governments across the world. Asia is a particular bright spot: “That feeling of hope here is very much future-oriented,” according to Remco den Heijer.

As Vice President of ASEAN at SAS, Den Heijer works with customers and partners to fully capture the huge potential of data, AI and analytics. He shared five ways that SAS is helping governments optimise across the world.

1. Saving millions from tax fraud

The Dutch Tax Agency worked with SAS to uncover tens of millions in tax fraud by using cutting-edge technologies. They set up a “broedkamer”, which roughly translates to mean a hen house for hatching golden eggs. They brought together experts from tech companies and government, and gave them world-class analytical software to try new things.

“One of the pilots that we did was to investigate VAT fraud”, Den Heijer explains. A specific type of import fraud is estimated to cost taxpayers more than €100bn per year globally. The broedkamer used government data sets and managed to uncover millions in tax fraud, allowing policy makers to bring the issue to Parliament and crack down on a loophole.

Tax agencies around the world have taken similar approaches, for example in Spain, India, the UK, Belgium and Ireland. In particular, Belgium cut VAT fraud from €1.1 billion (US$1.21 billion) per year to just €48m (US$53 million) thanks to big data analytics. SAS software has spotted efficiency gains and made tax collection more effective. Which means better public services for everyone.

2. Predicting crime

Policing is experiencing a greater change than at any time since the Peel Principles, which created London’s Metropolitan Police Force in 1829 and set out the first modern rules for crime prevention.

Data and AI are shaking up how police investigate crimes. They help identify patterns that can otherwise go unnoticed, Den Heijer said. “Let’s say you’re a field agent and you’re taking on a robbery case. You can immediately see there was a similar kind of robbery an hour ago in the same neighbourhood, and all are linked to the same green car.”

Police can even use that intelligence to predict future crimes, he says. “It’s not just about saving costs,” Den Heijer said. SAS is working across the world with its public safety division to make sure that crime doesn’t pay.

One example of how this is done is from Chile’s border control agency. It worked with SAS to pilot analytics to identify illegal vehicles crossing the border, initially running a three-week proof of concept to understand how data analytics could help. Its aim is to eventually create a platform pulling in data from at least three different agencies and cutting the number of false positives it needs to inspect.

3. Stopping human trafficking

Human trafficking is a huge problem in Asia. On any given day, 25 million men, women and children are living in modern slavery in Asia, according to the Global Slavery Index.

Governments are trying to clamp down, but it can be difficult to track people’s movements across the region. “There's so much data being gathered that the governments can't really see the forest from the trees,” Den Heijer said.

When a pattern is spotted, it used to take up to three months to go through the related government documents such as visas, flight paths, and movements across the country. Many busy governmental departments can struggle to find spare manpower.

AI has changed the game. Analytics allow officials to visualise human trafficking routes within mere days. Then they can act, stopping the modern slave trade in its tracks.

4. Helping natural disasters victims with data

This isn’t all about efficiency, Den Heijer noted. SAS has a programme called ‘Data for Good’, where its advanced analytics programmes are literally saving lives.

In 2015 Nepal was struck by an earthquake, and SAS worked with the UN and NGOs to use publicly available data and send resources to helpers very quickly. Beds, in particular, are an important resource that had to be delivered urgently to earthquake victims who have lost their houses.

“It sounds like a simple kind of thing, but there's a real logistical problem,” he said. Where are the survivors, and where are the supplies? Data can solve these problems in a heartbeat.

5. Boosting tourism

Countries across Asia are competing to attract greater numbers of tourists. From paradise white sands to bustling streetscapes, there is something for everyone. But, sometimes, the tourists are fed up before they even start to taste the street food or sip from their first coconut.

“When you go on Twitter, there are people complaining about a huge queue to get through customs,” he said. These frustrations can make all the difference when people are deciding their travel plans. Nations like Singapore have used this to their advantage.

SAS is working with airports to use predictive immigration models that pull together data and facial data and score high risk and low risk visitors. This helps speed the majority of people speedily through customs, and clamps down on people who are acting suspiciously or have a previous record.

How it works

SAS’ $1 billion investment is going into three areas: data technology; training programmes; and joint task forces to support new and existing customers.

The company has also made it easier for government to adopt AI systems. New technologies are constantly released so it can be difficult for governments to trial how they work. “You need that playpen to get your hands dirty and try out new technologies in small, safe environments,” said Den Heijer. SAS will build incubator labs to let governments learn how to use advanced analytics systems.

They will also help them think about privacy and security issues. SAS uses a simple two-pronged approach to train officers.

Firstly, SAS engages agencies as early as possible to share examples from across the world. Then they build small-scale pilots so governments can see how effective a given system is.

Only when everyone is comfortable do they move onto stage two. Transformational projects that can tackle tax fraud, terrorism, or conversely, boost tourism revenues.

The company was cited just this month by analyst firm IDC for its “leadership in analytics”. With 40 years of experience under their belt, they are still innovating - and investing - to ensure that governments make the most of what they have.

Read more about how to build trust in AI.

Images by Ford and United Nations Development Programme