AI and automation elevate productivity and service delivery for City of Kelowna

With proactive thinking and RSM support, city creates innovative growth strategy

May 03, 2024

Key takeaways

The City of Kelowna has developed a creative vision to enhance services through innovation

RSM is working with the city to realize its vision, with strategies that include several AI solutions

Optimization addresses several challenges, including the construction and housing shortage

Strategy and planning Business applications Data & digital services Artificial intelligence
Business transformation Generative AI Management consulting Microsoft

Historically, government entities have been cautious about adopting emerging technology. But when a municipality proactively takes advantage of innovation opportunities—as the City of Kelowna in British Columbia has done—it can have transformative effects on critical internal and external processes and ultimately provide a better quality of life for residents.

As a first mover in adopting generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Kelowna has become a pacesetter for public sector digital strategy, leveraging data, AI and process automation to increase efficiency and better serve the public. RSM has had the opportunity to work as a strategic advisor alongside the city and has played a key role as an enabler on this journey.

The path to enterprise AI—Kelowna as a blueprint for innovation

As administrators of the fastest-growing metropolitan area in Canada, City of Kelowna leadership had a vision for meeting the technology needs of the city in a way that could help them scale with future demand. That plan led them down a path to harness the power of automation and generative AI to improve efficiency, decision making and service quality across several domains, such as building permits, recreation and general city information (e.g., about landfill and snow removal schedules, relayed through an interactive external bot).

Although these innovative solutions were largely developed in 2023, the City of Kelowna started its journey several years earlier, led by the organization’s information services (IS) department. The IS team had already laid a strong foundation and established an innovative culture when they first engaged RSM to help accelerate their digital journey in 2022. Since then, RSM has worked with the city to develop an information technology (IT) strategy, a data strategy, and a comprehensive AI and automation approach, and the firm is now helping the city deploy various AI solutions.

The RSM management consulting technology advisory team began the relationship by delivering an IT strategy focused on unearthing the city’s needs and detailing how the IS team could enhance their service delivery and extract greater value from their applications and infrastructure. The RSM team outlined a three-year road map, which included over 50 strategic initiatives across applications and platforms, data and reporting, intelligent-city design, citizen services, IT project and delivery governance, IT service management, and workforce mobility. Ultimately, this project helped spread the message that IS is an innovative business partner that can lead the city into its digital future, and it resulted in the team securing $1.1 million in additional funding, on top of previous spend and budgets, to execute their strategic initiatives.

Following the IT plan, RSM technology advisory professionals completed a data governance strategy for the City of Kelowna that redefined data as a strategic asset across the organization. RSM advisors set up the city’s initial data governance framework, created an intake channel and detailed a road map for implementing and maturing governance over time.

From there, the RSM team completed an AI and automation strategy, which resulted in the development of an internal governance structure for uncovering and prioritizing AI and automation projects from across the organization. In the first round of operationalizing this structure, RSM unearthed over 100 initiatives and $1.4 million in potential annual savings for the city. In addition, the RSM team created strategic dashboards that allow City of Kelowna stakeholders to manage opportunities and track progress and the senior leadership team to have visibility into that data. With these insights, the city’s IS team gained further trust and further demonstrated the value they provide.

Coincidentally, during this project, OpenAI released its GPT generative AI model, which put the power of AI in everyone’s hands. The city’s IS team was quick to understand the magnitude and importance of this shift, and rapidly pivoted conversations with RSM to the broader use cases of generative AI, leading to discussions about permitting and other ways to serve employees and city residents.

With guidance from RSM, City of Kelowna stakeholders gained comfort with and a clear understanding of the tools and supporting architecture involved in training and using the model. In addition to deploying an agile and secure approach to experimentation, the city was able to quickly take advantage of the transformative technology.

“Without a strategic plan and a governance framework that operationalizes that plan, you can never be sure you are making the right investment decisions and maximizing the value of every dollar spent,” says Sawan Dhaliwal, a director at RSM Canada. “At the same time, you must move forward in an agile manner and encourage experimentation around low-risk use cases and projects.”

Turning strategy into results

With the strategy set forth by RSM’s technology advisory team, RSM’s data and AI teams from both Canada and the United States came together to execute on the City of Kelowna’s innovative vision. RSM advisors combined deep technical data and AI insight with extensive experience in Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service and the broader Microsoft Power Platform to deliver on an approach that provided transparency and accountability and aligned with the city’s values and ethics.

When evaluating internal processes and where AI and generative capabilities could initially make the most impact and demonstrate value, RSM and the City of Kelowna initially focused on building permit applications.

Taking on the housing shortage with AI

The current housing and construction shortage is one of the most significant concerns facing governments today, and permitting operations, as one of the most time-consuming elements of the overall process, often exacerbate the issue. To ease that burden, the RSM team developed a building permit AI assistant using Copilot Studio (formerly Power Virtual Agents) integrated with Azure OpenAI Service to help facilitate the building permit process in a friendly, chat-like experience.

The building permit AI assistant is expected to deliver immediate results and reduce the length of the permitting process from months to just days. The foundation created for the building permits use case is handling additional permitting processes across the city, reducing time to value in other critical areas and maximizing the City of Kelowna’s investment in AI technology. With this solution in place, the city can more efficiently and effectively facilitate the housing needs of today, while also planning for the future.

In addition to developing the building permit AI assistant, RSM has enabled the City of Kelowna to apply AI within other key city processes to help boost employee productivity and output with custom-built applications. These AI initiatives are also designed to be scalable enough for application to other key government functions in the future.  

Vision and teamwork to inspire change

The AI and automation approach is projected to be a significant win-win for both the City of Kelowna and its citizens. The strategic technology strategy prioritizes human involvement where it adds the most value, while harnessing machines to efficiently handle numerous manual tasks, thus expediting processes and saving taxpayers money.

The success of the project, credited to the forward-thinking teams at the City of Kelowna, is evident in the transformation of key functions. Through a comprehensive innovation strategy developed along with RSM, the city has leveraged AI and automation to optimize operations and become an innovation trailblazer among municipalities in North America and across the world. 

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