Enfield Council brings in artificial intelligence to deliver local government services

amelia ipsoft
Image: 'Amelia'

Enfield Council in north London is trialling a virtual assistant called Amelia to improve the online digital service experience for users and also to reduce the workload of staff within the organisation. The council’s head of digital delivery, Tim Kidd, believes this kind of AI-led approach will, in time, be rolled out for services in local government across the country.

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Speaking with Computerworld UK, Kidd says he “absolutely” expects AI to take off in the public sector and local government. “How quickly is a separate matter, but absolutely in the long run these sorts of technologies will become mainstream in our services,” he asserts.

The council worked closely with Amelia’s engineers at IPSoft so that the organisation can feed information about its processes directly into the AI.

“The technology is based upon the learning that we put into it, the same processes our staff follow in terms of delivering a service offering over the phone or face-to-face will be entered into the technology for it to consume, interpret and guide people through the same journey,” Kidd tells Computerworld UK. “[It’s] as if somebody was sat in front of an officer at a council, or on the end of the phone.”

According to Kidd, users of Enfield’s website will be able to access Amelia to offer guidance for digital services provided by the council.

And by feeding the correct processes and procedures into the AI, Kidd hopes that Amelia will help to deliver improved consistency in services across the council. “It makes sure we’re giving the same answer time and time again,” Kidd says. “The consistency in this will be the information we feed it.”

The AI will also take the role of an internal HR advisor that’s up to scratch on all the policies in the employee-employer handbook, so that “it can start to answer frequently asked questions about employer-employee-HR type queries”, says Kidd.

And it will provide an advice and information service to guide people through the processes of planning or building control applications, plus in applications for permits and licences.

According to the council, the offering won’t replace staff at the organisation, but will instead complement existing teams and assist them in handling the more laborious day-to-day processes.

“[Staff are] left to deal with the nub of the issue where specialist support is required, and it frees them up from having to deal with the same processes day in, day out,” Kidd says. “It gives them more opportunity to deal with those more complex areas.”

Amelia was first announced in 2014. IPSoft describes itself as “The Digital Labor Company” and recently partnered with consultancy Accenture on delivering the platform. Accenture itself is a top supplier to the public sector in the UK.

“Whereas many other technologies demand that humans adapt their behaviour in order to interact with smart machines, Amelia is intelligent enough to interact like a human herself,” the company said at launch.

It hasn’t been all plain-sailing selling the artificially intelligent colleague to the organisation.

“There’s clearly an area of both scepticism and concern about how will it function, what it will do, and how we make sure it doesn’t go off and do its own thing,” Kidd says. But the more workers are exposed to and understand the technology, they have reacted more positively and with a greater appreciation for what it can do.

“When we ran a few scenarios, they can really see the power and benefit of what it can do, and how it can help support council services, and equally, council officers,” Kidd says.

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