Councils turn to artificial intelligence to achieve UK£195mn savings - The EE

Councils turn to artificial intelligence to achieve UK£195mn savings

Councils in the UK expect to save over £195million (€221 million) in 2020 by introducing artificial intelligence technology techniques, according to a national survey of local authorities.

Financial savings, faster resolution of enquiries, freeing up staff to focus on citizen engagement and more accurate processing are the four key reasons behind the trend, revealed in a survey of unitary, borough, county and district councils carried out by local government AI and chatbot specialists ​Agile Datum​.

Councils each expect to save an average of £300,000 (€340926) in the next 12 months through greater use of artificial intelligence and another £180,000 ( €204556), on average, through the deployment of self-learning chatbots. One in six councils are anticipating savings between £750,000 (€85231 million) and £1m (1.1 million) just around the introduction of artificial intelligence technology. In all, it amounts to savings of £195m (€221 million) across unitary, borough, district and county councils in the UK.

Councils said reducing call volumes (86%), financial savings (80%) and improving customer services (64%) were the three main reasons for introducing chatbots. Other reasons were faster resolution of issues (55%), the ability to offer responses 24 hours a day (52%) and gathering data (43%).

Anthony Peake, managing director of ​Agile Datum​, said: “Chatbot technology, in particular self-learning AI models, is advancing rapidly. The potential to free up resources and staff time from an array of administrative tasks is huge.

“Councils are moving towards a strategic approach on how best to maximise benefits and are starting to implement AI through tools like chatbots and automated processing of documents. At a time of on-going financial challenges for local government, it’s hugely encouraging that councils are now looking at the opportunities that artificial intelligence brings.”

With councils having lost 50% of their budgets and around half the staff over the last decade, due to government cuts, the potential for chatbots to introduce 15% extra capacity and AI another 30%-35% capacity into every department is a huge opportunity for local government.

To help deliver these new technologies, most councils expect to have a chatbot strategy (90%) and artificial intelligence strategy (91%) in place within 12-18 months, with over half expecting to have these strategies in place within six months. Nearly a quarter of councils (24%) already have an AI strategy in place.

Agile Datum’s work with local authorities has seen the company selected as one of four UK finalists in the Lord Mayor of London’s ​flagship civic ​innovation​ programme for its democratising of the planning process with AI.

Working with The Alan Turing Institute, University of Exeter and Oxford Brookes University, Agile Datum has also been funded by Innovate UK to undertake a 2-year research programme into how AI can be applied across local government services including planning, social care, benefits, waste and highways.

Redbridge Borough Council in London is one of the authorities involved in the project and has adopted the technology for its planning department. Through improving processes and adopting new digital methods, including chatbots, the council has already reduced a three week application validation process to 48 hours.

Matthew Essex, operational director for regeneration, property and planning at Redbridge Borough Council, said: “We are the fourth growing borough in the country and are constantly striving to make great places for local people. The intelligent application of AI, chatbots and data visualisation will allow our planners to operate at a more strategic level and focus their time on delivering good, quality buildings, infrastructure and spaces for our residents.”

The Innovate UK funded programme will see Agile Datum work with councils to develop an Artificial Intelligence Validation Platform. Peake expects a dramatic impact on waiting and turnaround times and is keen for councils to contact Agile Datum if they would like to participate in this 2 year Innovate UK funded stud.

“Just focusing on planning alone, having used AI techniques to analyse a million UK planning applications from across 100 councils, we estimate that around two thirds of queries could be supported by self-learning chatbots. That’s a huge number for just one aspect of local authority work. The potential to cut waiting times, improve turnaround times and free up officers to focus on strategy, innovation and more complex citizen needs is immense.”

Agile Datum has developed an AI enabled chatbot trained to answer over 200 of the most common questions from members of the public which is already live with Redbridge Council.

In December, Agile Datum helped run the UK’s largest AI hackathon into planning processes, together with The Alan Turing Institute – the UK’s national centre for data science and AI. The hackathon was supported by computer science academics and students from 8 universities, including Exeter.​ for more information.

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