Local Authorities across the UK continue to face challenging economic times as well as trying to cope with the ever-changing technological platform. As their communities change the way they utilise technology, the pressure is on for Councils to find new innovative ways in which to communicate and deliver crucial services that reflect the modern changing world within the tight budgets that they are restricted to.
This is both a challenging and exciting future quest. It is challenging because there is an endless list of difficult and complex problems to keep tackling with limited resources that seem to constantly change in terms of priority and relevance. Following the Covid-19 pandemic we need to question what is more important, meeting environmental targets by improving waste management and reducing traffic congestion or tackling the rise in unemployment and poverty, or improving living conditions and providing safe facilities for our aging demographic. All of which are important but with a shrinking pot of money, Council departments find themselves fighting for the lion share. However, it is also an exciting time as we see Local Authorities adopting emerging technologies which can be used for the benefit of the public, leading to a greater economical and societal impact helping to assist in achieving those all-important targets for all segments of the community.
Some of the technology is not necessarily new to the market, but as the technologies have evolved, they are proving to be more beneficial to sectors that at first may not have seen the relevance such as local government. Artificial intelligence and robotics are increasingly becoming commonplace in local government, being adopted by forward thinking councils. There are already councils using virtual customer service assistants (chatbots) to handle basic queries more efficiently. The north London Borough of Enfield Council, for example, introduced Amelia; a robot technology dedicated to frontline council services, such as taking resident queries or authenticating licenses. The council’s intention in using artificial intelligence and cognitive computing is to try to reduce the burden of administrative tasks while gaining faster access to valuable insights. In doing so, the council is empowered to make better decisions for their citizens.
Another example is Aylesbury Vale District Council which has also started using artificial intelligence having implemented a virtual assistant system called Digital Genius. Designed for their employees with the aim to make them happier in their roles as the technology removes the need to spend time on monotonous tasks and can subsequently use their skills for more strategic and creative tasks.
Drones are another technological solution that are being used in the public sector. A drone supplied by Kent Fire and Rescue was used to survey the ruins of Grenfell Tower after its fire. As a result, we could soon be seeing fleets of drones helping the emergency services, delivering urgent medical supplies, and easing traffic congestion. The local government sector is picking up the pace by embracing digital technologies in recent times, where historically they could have been accused of being sluggish.
Due to councils being under constant scrutiny of the public it is of paramount importance that factors such as security, privacy, ethical and regulatory compliance are present in any adoption of tech. Ensuring that local authorities have a reliable and secure IT infrastructure in place is critical and as a result we see a continued trend in on-premise data centres where data remains onsite is accessible 24/7/365 under the watchful eye of a specialist IT Manager.
It is hoped that local governments will continue to embrace technology and recognise the value of data in informing decision-making, creation of efficiencies and service improvements. However, this will most likely require a significant cultural shift in the relationship local government has with technology, recognising that technological solutions must be designed around the user, not just around the efficiency of the organisation.