Editorial

‘The local government business model is broken’

Tech – including AI – has to be the main way local authorities deal with an era of permanent austerity, delegates told at last week’s Think AI for Public Sector conference

Posted 27 September 2017 by

Technology has to be at the heart of local government transformation – but only as part of a cold and objective re-assessment of the reality of the sector’s finance.

That’s the sober – but also highly pragmatic – frontline practice shared at last week’s Think AI for Public Sector conference by the Chief Executive of Aylesbury Vale District Council, Andrew Grant.

As part of a fascinating share about his team’s successful use of cloud (from Salesforce) and innovative use of the Alexa Echo AI-powered voice recognition front end, Grant outlined the context of change that led him to sponsor this aggressive use of advanced technology.

“If you ask me why Alexa is better than pencil and paper, my answer is that digital transformation has to improve customer service,” he told delegates at London’s One Great George St venue.

But due to government cuts, there is genuine danger of frontline customer service failure, he went on.

The problem is that too many local authority teams are waiting for more government money to come in and save them.

That is a fruitless project, though – as “the Government just isn’t going to give you the money”.

“The local government business model that worked for us so long is broken, and we have to seek help wherever we can to cope,” he advised.

For Aylesbury, that’s meant a complete re-think of how it structures the way it works and funds itself.

That has included a radical restructuring of staff, 50% of whom now just sit in one team, Customer Fulfilment, said Grant, as well as the push to self-service via techniques like Alexa.

“We knew we had to become a more connected council, all about making us a trusted brand.

“If the residents know for sure that their bins really will be collected next week, there’s a chance they might buy more value-added services from us, helping us build a more sustainable long-term ‘business’,” he pointed out.

To support her Chief Executive’s ambitious aims, added his colleague Maryvonne Hassall, Digital Strategy Lead at the council, Aylesbury has also gone practically cloud-only to offer a seamless customer experience – with that cloud complementing the use of Alexa, she added.