07 May 2021

Updated: The journey towards Intelligent automation 

Guest blog: Matt Weaver – Consultancy Director – Objectivity Limited

In the Data Analytics and Insight (DA&I) team at Lambeth Council, intelligence and automation are essential ingredients for the services we provide. Our aim is to provide meaningful insights that help stakeholders to make in-formed decisions. Let us start by providing a definition for each term in isolation before bringing them together.  

  • Intelligence: The ability to think and learn from experience to solve problems and adapt to new situations.  

  • Automation: The creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services.  

Of course, there are many variations - the descriptions here are adequate for our purposes. While both elements improve the way we work, bringing them together can transform what we do. Both for internal processes and to serve the residents in our communities.   

One team, three components

The DA&I team consists of three sub-teams that work closely together. The spatial team deals with the demographics of our borough - including people, property and socioeconomic information. The analytics team makes sense of this data, identifying trends and predicting potential future outcomes. The integration team sources data from many places (both internal and external) and brings it together as a coherent whole.   

Data exists in many places and in many forms. There are enterprise applications, commercial data stores, government repositories and numerous spreadsheets in folders and attached to emails. Data quality varies considerably, and this presents several challenges.  

Education is essential

For the work we do, context is everything. We must convert data into meaningful information, and this requires a detailed understanding of the domains we are working in. Digital services must be fully aligned to specific business problems and objectives.   

The goal is not simply to automate an existing process. If you are heading in the wrong direction, then getting there quicker will only makes things worse. Review each process to make sure it’s sufficient and appropriate before you start improving it.  

Equally, service recipients must understand how to incorporate models into new and existing processes. Human intelligence remains a key factor in cre-ating effective solutions and monitoring their performance.   

The longest journey begins with a single step

For the last few months, we have worked hard to automate some of our important but repetitive tasks. This especially relates to extracting, pre-processing, and routing data. From an intelligence perspective, we are trans-forming raw data into a precious asset that helps drive business decisions. Some decisions are autonomous, and some are still manual. In an organisation that deals directly with people, this is unavoidable.  

The learning and experience we gain from this work are invaluable. Building a safe environment where people are not afraid to innovate has been a major step forward. Creative ideas can now form quickly and evolve as part of a continual improvement programme.   

Benefits delivered include:

  • Combined dashboard reporting on key borough metrics for GOLD and DHSC.  

Over time we examine what is in place and decide if we can make it better. We may never achieve complete intelligent automation - but that was never our aim. The objective here is to help Lambeth Council’s staff to do what they do best - to deliver the Council’s ambitions and make a difference to residents' lives.