Advances in technology such as AI and automation are opening up new possibilities in local government services. By looking beyond the management of simple administrative tasks, to more complex processes, it can be used to provide better citizen outcomes.
Automation, chatbots, and AI are creating immense potential, especially when applied within the extensive, integrated technology stack that’s been developed by Microsoft. The growing sophistication of AI tools, and the application of cognitive technology principles, won’t just deliver better outcomes for the citizens. It’ll also help local government avert the crisis situation as they attempt to make substantial savings.
The changing face of customer engagement
The public sector faces the perfect storm: the growing expectation of customer engagement and the pressures on social care alongside tightening budgets means it must look for radical, new technology-based solutions.
For customer engagement, there’s a need to respond to rising demands while dealing with the pressure on budgets. This comes with meeting customer expectations, which are being changed by the way people do business online with the commercial sector. Local government must be able to respond to rising demands for a personalised citizen experience.
Automation can make a big contribution to efficiency, but it’s made relatively slow progress in local government. Too many processes still rely on manual intervention, especially when handing over from one system to the next. This adds extra effort to the employee, filling up their time with mundane tasks.
There is a further challenge for social care. The ageing population and social deprivation is increasing the demand for services. An estimated 1.2 million people have an unmet need, and social care demand is projected to rise by around £12 billion by 2030/31, growing at an average rate of 3.7 per cent a year. Efforts to deal with this are often undermined by a lack of coordination and a duplication of effort between agencies. But, it’s an area where intelligent automation and cognitive technology can help professionals use their time more productively.
Creating a self-service citizen experience with virtual assistants while driving the employee productivity
These point to a need for more automation in government. Microsoft has laid the ground for this with the Dynamics 365 platform. This includes functions such as customer self-service, workflow and case management. But the automation can now go much further. Virtual assistants able to take on back-end processes to update information and manage transactions.
On a basic level they can take over from manual processing and mundane tasks. For example, imagine a citizen provides notice of a change of address for a service. The quasi-logic within a virtual assistant identifies them, recognises other services the person receives, and automatically updates their record – or, if necessary, create a new one.
The virtual assistant can also authorise a service, or identify key points in a request. This ensures it’s allocated to the right team with relevant instructions and the appropriate level of priority.
All this can reduce the amount of manual processing – identifying, validating, and re-keying information. In moving service requests from front- to back-end, processes overall will be much faster, with human error eradicated. An effective virtual assistant is process-agnostic. This means it can switch from managing one process to another, being deployed in a way that reflects changes in demand and organisational priorities.
As a result, employees can focus their time on more critical work that requires human intervention.
Delivering a personalised citizen experience
But the big prizes are in applying machine learning and AI to more complex processes in which they take on more detailed, nuanced interactions with citizens. Microsoft has contributed to the potential with the development of CitizenBot – a chatbot designed to manage the demands of local government in the UK, both internally and when dealing with citizens.
It can support interactions through a conversation over any device or platform. It then responds with questions that shape a more precise requirement, pulling together information from a range of sources. CitizenBot has been programmed to understand how requests from the public relate to the services provided by local authorities.
It also remembers people through an authenticated log-in function, giving it the ability to refer back to earlier requests and records provided to the individual. It also works with a selection of languages. Overall, it provides high-quality and personalised automated support, with a positive service experience, and significant reductions in operational costs.
The possibilities are expanding as other technologies – like natural language programming and optical character recognition (OCR) – become more mature. For example, OCR can recognise characters on a PDF document or image file, and natural language tech makes sense of a conversational or colloquial statement for a database. This gives virtual assistants and bots the ability to take in more detail and handle complexities in interactions.
Transforming social care
Intelligent automation can be deployed in the more routine administrative elements of social care. Meanwhile, AI helps create a more objective approach to care provision, compiling case information and making recommendations. The objective is to provide a more proactive and personalised service. At the same time, it needs to drive efficiencies via automation and self-service.
The use of predictive analytics and data insights can highlight crucial elements, relate them to other factors in a case history, and form predictions of what could follow from various choices.
It wouldn’t replace human judgement. As evidenced in medical practice, it could weigh up options and make recommendations, supporting staff in making sensitive decisions. If it raises the success rate of interventions, it eases future burdens on social care teams.
A 24/7 chatbot can guide citizens through the social care options available to improve their lives, answer most frequently asked questions, schedule appointments with named officers. An advanced application can support citizens who require home care services. Then, Bots can prompt for appointments, physical activities, meals, hydration or medication.
Council services can be transformed by emerging AI tools. These have the potential to sharply improve efficiency as social care teams – and others in local authorities – gain a stronger understanding of individual cases, and be better placed to make difficult decisions.
Public authorities are riding the first wave of intelligent automation in their services. However, they should be looking beyond this, to the much wider range of possibilities from cognitive technology.
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About the author
Prajakt is a management consulting professional with more than 15 years of experience in serving large global clients from a variety of industries – from public sector and manufacturing to telecommunications. He’s passionate about helping customers exploit transformation opportunities, derive value from technology investment and accelerate success. Currently, Prajakt is Industry Sponsor for the Local and Regional Government sector in Microsoft Services.