The Case for AI

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    Tuesday28Nov 2017
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    Guest blog by Phil Brunkard, CIO – Regional Government & Health, BT as part of our #CounciloftheFuture campaign

Keeping the lights on

While some experts believe several major structural factors are converging to create new impetus for innovation and experimentation, many councils are struggling to ‘keep the lights on’ in the face of ongoing budget challenges. Council leaders are having to make tough decisions to find the funds to support increasing pressures of adult social care, housing and homelessness.

I think most of us recognise the familiar 80/20 principle for IT budgeting, i.e. 80% of the budget is typically needed to keep the lights on with only 20% available for innovation and new development. And this is a familiar problem that many councils still face today. The challenges remain – how to migrate from incumbent systems, shift to cloud, deploy digital channels and outsource services whilst trying to maintain and improve frontline services. And all the time meet increasing citizen expectations in the face of decreasing funds.

But are the lights that councils are keeping on energy efficient? While there are several examples over the years of councils applying lean techniques to streamline processes for efficiency savings, there are arguably still opportunities to re-examine what work council ‘knowledge workers’ do each day. How much of their work is really about knowledge and value versus admin and wasteful paperwork?

Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?

Even if many councils have reduced the amount of paperwork through digitising services and providing community/field workers with access to information and systems via smart mobile devices there is still a considerable amount of drudge work that staff must do. This drudgery usually relates to information based tasks – getting information; documenting and recording it; processing it; analysing or evaluating it and reporting it. All this effort impacts time that could be spent concentrating on more beneficial skill based activities such as adult and social care. Isn’t focusing on the life-changing part of their work the reason why carers took up the job in the first place?

This is where automation through adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies can really drive transformation outcomes for the council of the future. The technologies can significantly ease the amount of casework information handling and administration for care workers. For example, AI technologies can be used for the following tasks:

Technology

Use

Chatbots

  • Appointments scheduling
  • Handling queries
  • Automated follow-up and documentation processing
  • Remote diagnosis

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

  • Case application screening, verification and qualification
  • Form auto-filling

Machine Learning

  • High-risk cases assessment
  • Fraud detection
  • Personalisation of service delivery
  • Case prioritisation

Clearly this can be seen as beneficial for staff and citizens alike if the focus is on improving service and not strictly about reducing costs.

A bright future?

The technology does not have to be about cutting staff headcount but about providing new tools to work in new ways to deliver better outcomes for citizens. AI enabled automation will unlikely displace tasks or roles instantly. Change is likely to be gradual and manageable. No doubt there will be social and political resistance but ultimately, as history shows, revolutionary change becomes the norm over time. While many tasks and some jobs will be displaced, new higher-skilled jobs will be created. Someone will be needed to train and explain to the robots!

Ultimately, more forward-thinking local authorities will see AI technology as an opportunity to reimagine how future services can be delivered making the most of integrating human and machine-based skills side by side and essentially delivery better citizen outcomes in a high-paced ever-changing digital world.

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