Guest Blogger

Hats off to the London Borough of Enfield.  Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, famous for the LeeEnfield rifle and the world’s first cash machine, Enfield has pole vaulted into the age of artificial intelligence.

The Council is trialing a virtual assistant called Amelia who will help to improve its online digital customer experience while reducing the workload of is staff. It forecasts an AI-led approach to the provision of public services sweeping across local government and quickly becoming mainstream, but not everyone is so positive. Earlier in the year, the Institute of Directors warned that 15m jobs are at risk from the rise of automation, a figure echoed by the Bank of England.

The digitisation of UK civic services is admirable. From the ability to pay your council tax on line to the clusterisation of our Tech Cities, in an interconnected world, newly digitised, or Smart Cities can expand the potential of their communities, thriving on a measure of the unexpected that feeds on their proud traditions of the past, while fuelling the imaginations of those who create their futures.

Enfield recognises the long term process involved, and wants to teach the technology the same processes followed by its staff in delivering a strong service, while creating room for improvements in its consistency. They also want to apply the machine learning to their HR function, teaching it how to answer questions about employer-employee-HR type queries.

AI is certain to take off, across the board, from fund management to local government, but an inevitable reaction is the backlash it faces from people at work who feel more vulnerable, not more valuable, from the onset of computerisation. A dystopian future is already all too apparent to anybody shopping in a supermarket, where check out automation continues to replace check out assistants.

To cope, the IoD went so far as to call for big changes in the education system with less emphasis placed on pupils’ ability to recall facts and apply standardised methods, which machine learning and artificial intelligence do faster and with more precision, and more of a focus on how to apply knowledge in a market that no longer rewards workers primarily for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

The balance needs to be redressed today, not tomorrow, as we persuade today’s employees that while workplace culture is changing, those changes can work out to their advantage.

We cannot do this by foisting new tech on disinterested or unprepared associates; people at work are disengaged enough without risking making them more so. Gallup research found that only 30 per cent of those in America holding down full time jobs are engaged in their work. Qualtrics discovered that the average UK employee thinks a third of the work day is unproductive. To motivate their staff, early adopters in Enfield and elsewhere must communicate and teach the competences workers must acquire, and do that by extending the connectivity and collaboration that young people take for granted in the classroom to the workplace.

The process is logical.  We might not be algorithms but we can think scientifically a process that should come naturally to most HR departments. Engage your associates; ask what they think can be improved. How do they rate benefit plans, training programmes, their familiarity with new IT, opportunities for advancement and work culture. Transparency builds trust, which breaks down barriers.

Achieve that insight with immediate, affordable and simple to use software platforms that grasp the employee experience, replacing laborious interviews and interpretation with real time, automated analytics. Not only does engagement software involve the employee, continuously and in real time, it introduces the concept of workplace automation in a positive light.

Armed with hard data, employers can link individual reports to an organisational overview from which to drill down and compare teams. The more scientific the approach, the more data is accrued, the better the co incidence between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Yes, AI has come to Enfield, but just as the Council is trailblazing in its application, it will also need to trail blaze the handling of its consequences. If it gets it right, innovative Enfield should soon be able to compete with any local authority on earth!

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