Council’s assistant IT director says there is potential for councils to develop an ecosystem for using the technology in local government processes
Enfield Council is planning to launch its artificial intelligence (AI) service agent in March with an initial emphasis on dealing with enquiries on building and planning controls.
Rocco Labellarte, the council’s interim assistant IT director, said it should have 30 processes built into the system’s capability, and that he expects it to be a first step in councils using the technology for a wide range of processes.
Enfield has become the first local authority in the UK to make a significant move into using AI, having signed a deal, announced in June, with cognitive technology company IPSoft to use its Amelia virtual service agent.
Labellarte told the Local Digital Transformation conference, staged by UKAuthority with the support of Microsoft, that Enfield has built 15 processes into the technology during a pilot and should have another 15 in place by the spring.
He said Amelia is basically a chatbot, which simulates a human conversation through AI, and will work initially within a webchat function but could be developed for use in other channels. It will be aimed at mid volume, mid complexity processes for which he believes the technology is more appropriate in the short term.
“Chatbots have an interesting future in local government,” he said. “There are high volume, low complexity transactions, which are really forms.
“In our first attempt at AI, which took four months, we built an eight step artificial intelligence cognitive agent, which we could have done with a form with eight questions. We thought that was a lot of time to spend on something you could do with a form.
“What you don’t do is go for high volume, low complexity transactions as forms do that really well.”
He said that it is best to avoid low volume, high complexity processes – such as those in social care – for now as it will demand highly time-intensive programming. This will be very difficult when it even needs programming to respond to the many variations of ‘Hi’ or ‘Hullo’.
Labellarte told the conference: “Is it interesting? Absolutely. What’s really fascinating is that if local authorities pull together to work in this area, because of the complexity of our services, we can build these things together.
“In terms of where we take this it’s a very interesting market, and in the next couple of years it could mature into the social care area.”
He added that Enfield aims to make its processes available for other councils. “We’re trying to build across local government,” he told UKAuthority. “Once we’ve built the vertical we can provide it to other councils.”
He said the council is not aiming to build in every process for local government, but anticipates that other authorities will begin to develop those they consider priorities as use of the technology spreads.
“We’re not trying to create an ecosystem, but the first element of an ecosystem. Different councils can come in with different parts of the ecosystem.”