Brent London Borough Council has outlined its digital strategy up to 2026. It includes using next generation technology to make it easier for citizens to interact with the council.
The £10 million investment over a five year period includes using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the quality of collected data across the organisation, increase the number of integrations between systems and reduce the number of IT applications by at least 10 percent.
It said this will ultimately increase staff productivity, producing an expected equivalent of £400,000 savings per annum in staff time by 2023/24.
“It’s about the way we want our services to work, not just for us as a council but also for our residents,” deputy leader of Brent Council, Mili Patel, told Think Digital Partners.
“For example, we at the moment have Brent Hubs. So rather than having all the services coming from the Civic Centre, we have these community hub areas where people will go to if they want help with council tax, their housing, or family wellbeing centres. We don’t need somebody physically going up to Civic Centre [for] things like form filling. That is all digital. And we’re also spending quite a bit of our resources in getting residents to be digitally confident as well.
“Because our resources are so stretched, we can then spend time with those residents that need help. We know the ones that can be on digital platforms and get what they need.”
AI that frees up resources
Patel, and Brent Council’s network manager Tim Butler, were speaking at Juniper Networks’ AI in Action event this month.
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Brent Council has invested in Juniper’s networking kit, which includes its AI-based virtual networking assistant, Marvis. Butler said this has helped his team troubleshoot issues, freeing up his small team which supports many users.
“You’re actually freeing up staff time to do what they need to do to help residents,” he said. “So for the people that actually want the face to face contact, you’ve got more staff available for that.”
“We would have to get an agency or somebody externally to give that support, but we don’t have to because if the Juniper system is already picking up the faults for us and is able to remedy them,” said Patel.
The investment isn’t just about the obvious cost savings, said Butler. It is as important to meet the digital expectation of employees. “People are now going back into the office. They expect the Wi-Fi to work like it does at home; it just connects and everything’s fine, which is always a challenge in corporate environments.
“If we’re providing a stable network for the for our staff to work, then they’re not getting so stressed and annoyed going into the office,” he said.
The deputy leader noted that local government employees “work really, really hard – and with less than ever. At the same time, the council must cater to changing employee expectations around technology and hybrid working.
“It’s about flexibility. We’ve got to be good about hybrid working because, now coming out of pandemic, people don’t want to be at a desk. They might want to work from home. So as a local government authority, we we’ve got to move with the times.”