The rise of bots in the public sector



Although a lot of the UK public sector is still heavily reliant on outdated, stagnant IT infrastructure, there is an AI revolution emerging. Bit by bit, more of the public sector is starting to reap the benefits of a machine-learning integrated computing system. From Monmouthshire Council’s bot Monty, to Enfield Council’s ‘cognitive agent’ Amelia, one by one local authorities are embracing AI as the answer to bringing councils into the digital age. But why invest in AI in the first place?  

Digital transformation

At a time when the vast majority of our interaction is done online, having a digitally up-to-date system is vital. Our world is growing increasingly interconnected through transformative digital technologies and this isn’t going to change any time soon. By investing in the constantly improving capabilities of machine learning, the public sector can have a computing interface that keeps up with this fast-moving world and ways of interacting. Although it may sound like a hefty splurge for the already budget-tight governments and councils, investing in a more efficient, digitally transformative system can actually save money in the long run. Chatbots can free up human resources by answering simple, frequently asked enquiries online automatically. This reduces the time, money and staffing hours needed to answer these FAQs over the phone, over email or in person. But to be digitally up-to-date, it’ll take more than a one-time investment. To stay in line with the latest improvements, modernising your computing system has to be a constant, long-term investment for local authorities and other public sector organisations, as well as private sector businesses. Deloitte has devised ‘digital maturity measures’ for governments to map this shift towards a more digitally focussed system. In their own words, they found that ‘digitally savvy leadership is a game changer’. Organisations that were classed as ‘maturing’ instead of ‘early’ or ‘developing’ being those that were digitally sophisticated, and saw user-focused systems as central to continuous progression.  

Overcoming the inertia

Similarly, a study by Accenture and Forrester demonstrated that by digitally transforming and keeping up with new advancements, an organisation can foster evolution and cross-channel collaboration. However, the research found that more often than not, modernising their interfaces didn’t materialise or were not fully efficient. While companies understood the need to become digitally progressive they were being held back due to internal reservations or an incomplete understanding of the resources needed to execute a digital strategy effectively. Exploring new ideas and innovative technology can be a daunting task for organisations. But it can also be hugely rewarding when embraced fully instead of half-heartedly trialled. By being interested and open to the different ways that digital technologies can optimise your operating systems, you will be more likely to take advantage of new technologies that can revolutionise how your organisation operates. Integrating AI into your interface is a great place to start. It quickly alleviates stretched resource allocations, demonstrating how investing in modernising existing technologies can lead to huge payoffs. This makes further digital technology investment more likely.  

Case Studies   

AI has already been successfully implemented by governments and councils both in the UK and abroad. Here are some case studies to show how AI can be used in public sector organisations.

Emma

Across the pond, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already started integrating AI in the form of their chatbot Emma. Emma quickly and efficiently answered user questions on immigration and helped improve user navigation of their website by taking visitors to the relevant page related to their queries. The USCIS receives over 14 million calls on immigration issues each year, which obviously takes up a lot of the staff’s time. Emma helped to free up resources originally taken by answering these simple queries. When Emma cannot find the answer to the user’s query, ‘she’ will redirect the customer to a human agent.

Ask Jamie

AI is not just a technology being embraced by the public sector over in the West. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) also uses a virtual assistant called ‘Ask Jamie’ that can answer almost any government-related query. In a similar way to using a search engine, when users visit the governmental agency website, Jamie is able to answer the user's questions automatically. Ask Jamie can also ask follow-up questions in case the search query from a user is too broad, to help work out the best information to present. Similar to Emma, if you were to ask a question that Jamie cannot answer, you will be transferred to an actual human. As well as this virtual assistant, the IDA also has a partnership with Microsoft to develop conversational intelligence that can be integrated into existing public services. The aim of this is to develop the next-generation in online public services that are even more accessible and engaging for all users.

Monty

Monmouthshire Council’s approached us seeking an end-to-end customer services solution that could respond to constituents quickly to cope with frequently asked queries. That’s where the idea of Monty was born. The English and Welsh speaking bot was devised to be accessible to all users regardless of their digital knowledge, experience or language. A big part of making Monty accessible was to make sure that users were not intimidated by the idea of AI. Through launching community hubs and tea and tech sessions,  residents could come and ask questions about the new chatbot and become more familiar with digital technologies. This friendly way of doing things helped to make Monty a huge success, as the chatbot became a friendly persona loved by many instead of an unknown robotic entity. Read more on Monty the bot here.

Amelia

Enfield Council’s ‘cognitive agent’ Amelia works in a similar way to Monty, acting as a cognitive agent on frontline council services. The agent answers common questions, takes resident queries, handles requests for permits and authenticates licences. Her persona and communication skills are based on natural language processing – computers learning how to interpret the emotion expressed in a human voice – meaning that she is capable of detecting different emotions in customer’s voiced and respond appropriately. Because she can adjust her tone to suit the situation, callers may not even realise that they are talking to a robot and not a human.  

The future

To many, the future of AI can sound like something out of a post-apocalyptic horror film. But don’t be so easy to believe the stories that super-intelligent beings will soon be taking over the planet. While computers can do some of the things that before only the most intelligent were capable of doing, such as winning a game of chess, they still struggle with simple tasks that most humans can do with ease. AI is extremely good at completing highly specific tasks, such as answering user queries. But these bots still struggle to interpret erroneous language, such as when sentences have syntactic or semantic mistakes. They also struggle with analysing images, hence why Captcha tests (the ones to prove that you’re not a robot) have moved from squiggly text to blurry images of storefronts. In terms of the next steps for AI and how it will help make local authorities become more efficient, there are loads of potential advancements that are not too far away. From full-automated public transport to relieving humans from doing dangerous and health implicating jobs. From helping to answer the growing need for elderly care to removing human errors from electoral vote counting, there are endless ways that AI can help councils run that much smoother. By reducing the need for human employees to complete certain jobs, resources can be focussed towards more pressing, complicated issues or departments where face-to-face human communication and interaction would be most useful.

We’re helping councils across the UK to innovate their systems through integrating chatbots. Think you’re ready to try out a chatbot? Read our article on ‘Is your business ready for a chatbot?’. Or get in touch with us at info@webuildbots.ai or Book a Demo or Free Customer Service Consultation.