In a world of fast paced advances in computing and incessant budget cuts, local authorities are turning to automation. By investing in software that can automatically process routine council tasks, they can recoup efficiency savings, allowing them to invest more in their core responsibilities.
Adoption of automated technology varies in scale from place to place. Some councils, such as the London Borough of Enfield, are investing in artificial intelligence designed to answer calls from citizens. Unlike previous generations of robots, Amelia – as Enfield Council’s new helper is called – monitors the emotion expressed in caller’s voices, helping it to respond more naturally.
Cutting edge technology is exciting, but councils must keep track of how these developments change their relationship with their users. Monitoring emotional responses can quickly become surveillance, leading to disagreements as to whether efficiency benefits outweigh intrusions of personal privacy.
Automation doesn’t have to be so extreme. Councils can save a lot of money by automating requests for waste collection, taking payments through automated systems and renewing things like library books through self-service checkouts. Nor is efficiency the only benefit. In areas such as revenue collection, the accuracy offered by automation makes costly human mistakes a thing of the past.
It could also help councils improve job satisfaction. Menial tasks such as transaction processing are repetitive and take up time. Automation could remove such burdens, freeing up employees to spend time on more satisfying endeavours.
Yet councils should consider carefully which services to fully automate. In places where users expect to encounter a person, such as a library, they might be disappointed to find a computer in their place. Councils should be mindful of who uses their services, and tailor the experience to their needs. For instance, young people are more likely to grasp automated payment systems than the old.
An in depth risk assessment prior to automation will help local authorities to identify potential trouble spots. If they do choose to go ahead, they should make sure to optimise their back-end system. Slow, unreliable computer programmes risk frustrating users, pushing them further away from embracing automation whilst damaging the council’s reputation.
Ultimately, as big data fuels smart technology, people will begin expecting this kind of intelligent, responsive service from their local authorities. However, councils must manage the automation revolution carefully, with an appreciation of the risks involved, from the very beginning.
Published date: 18th September 2017
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