Young professionals: What do you get when you combine a mission impossible, a dynamic team and the support of an expert organisation?

In the autumn of 2018, the participants in the NAOF's programme for young professionals were given the assignment of bringing artificial intelligence (AI) to the agency. The outcome of the assignment was presented to the personnel and our external stakeholders in the summer of 2019. Together we are more – the outcome was a happy surprise even to the participants.

Digitalisation is penetrating all work and activities even in central government. Although artificial intelligence is not yet part of government agencies’ everyday operations, it may well one day be. We started to develop an AI solution practically with a clean sheet of paper, keeping in mind the future needs.

Developing an AI solution for the NAOF required collaboration on several different levels. We discussed and developed new kinds of potential approaches with more experienced NAOF employees.

Our data analytics project promoted an experimental culture and kept the NAOF’s ICT Manager Juhani Heimsch also busy. Juhani shared with us his observations of the development of the AI solution.

What was different in this project?

Heimsch pointed out that the dynamic, non-routine nature of the project required abandoning the conventional work process, in which each project is entered in a work plan in good time. In this case, the entire starting position was thus different.

ICT projects are normally launched by considering realities and the feasibility of the project. This provides a stepping stone to assessing various realistic ways of implementing the project.

Our project proceeded in a completely different order. We started by envisaging potential solutions together with auditors. Only after this did we start to test our ideas in practice.

The new kind of operating model was a refreshing experience. It showed that things can also proceed quickly and efficiently despite challenges.

One of the challenges we identified in the project was that the AI tool produced as a deliverable is not applicable as such to the NAOF’s IT environment but requires further developing. However, our ICT manager welcomed the new way of working, which relied on an experimental culture and was easy to adapt to.

The expertise of experienced NAOF’s employees was indispensable

We welcomed Heimsch’s and the auditors’ support. It was necessary, as we were not specialists in data analytics or auditing to start with.

If the experimental culture is to be applied even in future projects, there has to be some kind of a change of attitude. It is essential to identify the projects where brainstorming and experimenting would promote the achievement of the goals.

In our assignment, we proceeded by utilising diversified experience to supplement our own competence. The project was an educational experience and definitely not the last one of its kind. In the spring of 2021, for example, the NAOF will organise the Young EUROSAI conference, which will focus on the themes of experiments and experimental culture.

The NAOF’s programme for young professionals was launched on 1 May 2018. The programme also included working in different parts of the organisation and different development tasks.

Read the report: What would we do next? Recommendations of the NAOF’s young professionals 2018–2019

Authors: Ines Gullichsen, Samu Kälkäjä