Digital Leaders - Digital Council of the Year

Buckinghamshire Council DL100 submission

Connected Knowledge is helping pull Buckinghamshire Council out of the old, silo-based mentality whilst making services more available, convenient, efficient and effective for residents. The strategy is innovative to the core and far removed from a traditional council technology strategy and as such is worthy of winning this award. Its conception was initiated following the announcement that local councils would no longer receive government grants. This led Buckinghamshire Council to consider how it could keep operating costs at a manageable level and meet the increasing demand on services from a growing population.

Since Buckinghamshire Council initiated its digital transformation over 45,000 residents have signed up for a My Account, out of just under 80,000 households. This far exceeds initial expectations and demonstrates a clear appetite for digital self-service amongst the Vale’s residents. In terms of efficiency gains benefits calls have dropped by nearly 20%, the council tax line has seen a 26% drop in calls, recycling and waste has seen a 23% decrease, and in terms of other channel shift we have seen an impressive 83% increase in the use of webchats. When Buckinghamshire Council first launched webchat there were 49 conversations in the first month. Now there are over 1,500 enquiries a month on average and our agents can deal with five web chats in one go, costing 15p per chat versus one phone call costing £2.25. This is ensuring much greater efficiencies within the council and frees up staff to dedicate more time to the more demanding queries.

Connected Knowledge is building on this digital foundation. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been part of Buckinghamshire Council’s plans since the inception of its innovative Connected Knowledge approach. This strategy was developed to better meet demand in addition to the increasing expectation of a 24/7 digital-first experience for residents. As part of the strategy, Buckinghamshire Council has implemented DigitalGenius in Salesforce Service Cloud to bring AI to its customer service operation. This software assists customer service staff by recommending appropriate answers to customer queries.

Giving connected citizens the tools to engage with us at any time also means our staff can respond to those without internet access or with more complex queries in a more timely manner. In an endeavour to reduce the amount of time residents have to wait for their questions to be answered, with the help of DigitalGenius, resident services team members now respond to enquiries within three to five minutes, compared to eight minutes before the DigitalGenius implementation. The system is learning from every interaction with a 50% reduction in response times and a 300% increase in AI accuracy so far.  As a result staff are spending less time on the day-to-day, mundane queries, freeing them up to focus on more important tasks.

The digital strategy has an end goal of 100% of the council’s software being Cloud-based. Buckinghamshire Council has already saved over £6m by moving its IT to the Cloud. To have all software on the Cloud will not only result in more significant savings from no hardware costs, but all of our systems and tools will be available directly from a browser window. As a result of this staff will be able to work from anywhere, on any internet-connected device, and at any time. Staff are now able to work in an easier, faster and much more flexible way making Buckinghamshire Council an increasingly more agile organisation.

Buckinghamshire Council has become the first council to have a skill developed and officially accredited on Amazon Echo’s Alexa technology. AI voice-control technology is a growing market with huge potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of council services, whilst empowering residents with a 24/7 service and catering for all, regardless to technical ability.

In the push to digitise services, those without the necessary digital skills can be intimidated by online automated services. By using voice control Buckinghamshire Council is providing a further avenue for residents to interact with the council’s services and not be left behind by digitisation, but without the need to use a computer or smart phone. Buckinghamshire Council has started with a small range of skills dependent on fulfilment capacity, with plans to expand the skill base in line with customer demand. So far the council has successfully received and carried out sharps and assisted bin collections from residents, organised entirely through Alexa.

Council services have never been delivered in this way and as it’s still early days in Buckinghamshire Council’s Alexa skill work the scope for development is hugely exciting. The council is in discussions with partners on how Alexa could be employed to improve other services, such as alleviating the strain on social care through the use of voice-control technology. We firmly believe this has the potential to revolutionise service delivery across local government, providing a great service whilst creating vital savings and efficiencies during increased pressure on services and budgets.

The development of Buckinghamshire Council’s Amazon Echo skills was a first for a council and as such there were no previous examples from which to learn. This has demonstrated the innovation and drive of Buckinghamshire Council’s digital programme team who have worked from a blank sheet to discover and overcome problems as they arose.

This technology has huge potential for growth and Buckinghamshire Council’s work is attracting significant interest from organisations around the country. Buckinghamshire Council has been visited by a number of interested councils, and the team have spoken at 17 high profile IT events in 2017. On top of this Buckinghamshire Council has hosted its own digital-specific conference in June 2017 and a transformation conference in October 2017 which were attended by representatives from 49 separate councils.