After years of austerity, asset sweating and long-term outsourcing contracts, IT departments within Councils are not typically viewed as at the forefront of cutting edge IT when it comes to delivering public services to customers. Many are under immense pressure to just save costs for the council as a whole, to cope with the stress the organisations are under, however after estate reduction, virtualisation of infrastructure and any other method there reaches a point where efficiency is at a maximum when working to a tradition Capex led approach to assets and IT.
London Borough of Enfield is a customer of risual and one such council which is taking the initiative and actively pursuing new ways to offer digital services and improve the customer experience for staff and users. For example, all council call centres are under immense pressure and having the right amount of staff to ensure short waiting times, without any waste is increasingly difficult to predict. risual have deployed Dynamics 365 solutions at many councils to enable them to be more efficient, reduce call trees and make sure the call agent has the right information to hand to deal with a call effectively and efficiently. Enfield however have taken an even further step and introduced an AI Chatbot to deal with simple questions and queries, which should hugely reduce the call load and delight residents who are perhaps used to sitting in calls which could take a very long time to achieve the same result.
Rocco Labellarte, Assistant Director of IT at Enfield discussed this with Diginomica magazine:
In local government, you have three key areas: high volume and low complexity transactions such as forms; high complexity and low volumes such as social care, and in the middle you’ve got medium complexity and medium volumes such as planning permission and council tax collection. That central area is low risk and it’s the ideal place for AI to work, at least on this stage of the journey.
AI has the potential to take out repetitive admin processes that are too complex and nuanced for regular automation, freeing people up to do more sophisticated and gratifying work. There could be job losses eventually, but another option is to provide better quality services where they’re required.
This shows the forward-thinking mindset of Enfield, willing to plan for the short, medium, and long term with a strategy that combines a huge mixture of technology and suppliers to achieve their goals. They do not consider what they have already purchased, or where their current skills are – taking a user centric approach to IT, visualising the best approach for end users and consumers and working back from there will provide the most productive, efficient outcome, achieving the longest-lasting value.
Rocco also discussed digital transformation in a conversation with risual, as part of our public sector marketing broadcasts:
“So, there’s a bit of what every council does in the reason for our transformation, there’s tightening purse strings, Enfield is growing with more people coming in and an aging demographic as well so when you balance the need to save money and deliver better services. ‘Digital Transformation’ as we see it is really a continuation of the journey we’ve always been on to refresh infrastructure and address the pressures we’re under by changing the structure of the organisation to achieve this.”
In terms of Enfield journey of transformation, it’s been a multi-year process, starting with a move to Microsoft Azure, and then continuously working and improving the infrastructure to ensure they are getting new services and operational benefits from that migration, not just a ‘lift and shift’ approach to get their infrastructure off premise and into the cloud.
“It’s about keeping pace with change, two to three years ago cloud was at the forefront of the discussion, at the time everyone was talking about migration and infrastructure-as-a-service, but not many councils were ready to do it. If you fast forward two years now and look at the work we have done with risual and Microsoft on the Azure platform we are now seeing the cloud is live up to the hype. When you first migrate, you have legacy systems that are not designed for the cloud, now our systems are designed to work in the cloud and get more out of those benefits.”
The difference between Enfield and many other local government organisations, is they are so far ahead of the curve, Rocco discussed this in our conversation:
“Platforms such as Azure are a game changer, and eventually we will all have to move there just as people had to move from analogue to digital. The challenge for Local Government is the difference in investment cycles, if we had invested in an in-house datacentre last year, we would not be ready to move, we would want to get value out of that. So some are ready to invest now, and others it may be up to seven years”
The benefit of a cloud migration, is that it enables you to move from a capital investment, to an operational investment. Even if your migration does not offer an immediate reduction in costs, it enables you to then transform and take more risks by offering new experimental services such as AI Chatbots. Knowing that you do not need to invest heavily in on-premise servers or software before you know if it will be a success, means that Councils can offer these innovative services, without the risk of it falling flat and wasting public money on unused infrastructure.
As discussed previously, true business transformation comes from user adoption and improving user journeys through technology. An upgrade to make the same process quicker or automated does have value, but it will not offer some of the longer term value that a total reimagining can offer. Rocco discussed this in our discussion about keeping people at the centre of change being the real challenge:
“Technology isn’t that difficult to work with, you design it, you put it in and it either works or it doesn’t, it’s quite inanimate. Both internally in terms of staff, stakeholders and users the real challenge comes from starting out in the right place, showing people this is how you do it and getting that right, is the real challenge. We need to look at the entire system end to end, taking existing processes and shoehorning them into new technology doesn’t work. We need to understand our demographic, what they’re doing and really think about how we can engage with them and improve their experience with technology.”
This is the key lesson to take away, through various projects as part of their transformation journey, Enfield has learned that no one tool or technology will ‘transform’ their organisation, it was adopting a new way of looking at projects, envisioning processes, service and functions without historic IT constraints and looking to lead with innovation and purpose, freeing up their digital potential.
Our Public Sector Broadcast with Rocco is available here or below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcIGa1wtpc8
Diginomica’s article is available here: http://diginomica.com/2017/02/24/ai-chat-bots-new-face-local-gov-enfield-council-thinks/