West Lothian councillors give go-ahead for greater use of robotics and artificial intelligence
West Lothian Council is to push ahead with plans to automate services and introduce wider use of robotics and artificial intelligence.
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It’s a move away from the reliance on 24-hour staffed services in the council’s Customer Services Centre.
But, the council’s executive was told the programme would not cost jobs and will make better use of staff.
The plan is to delegate repetitive tasks such as customer requests to the council for services such as requests for bulky waste uplifts or simple housing enquiries to “virtual” workers, creating automated systems to record and process requests.
In a report to the executive, digital transformation manager Karen Cawte said: “By rationalising low value, transactional or repetitive activity, the CSC [Customer Service Centre] advisers will have greater capacity to manage higher value and more complex customer enquiries.”
The report added: “Customer’s expectations are changing rapidly due to their experiences of service delivery from other organisations. Customers want to be able to access services 24/7, and recent research suggests that 40 per cent of people’s time online is done outside of office hours. This means that the council needs to radically rethink how some services are delivered.”
Councillor Carl John said he had had representations from people who suggested that the unions had not been consulted. He asked “Will there be consultation and will there be training?”
Depute chief executive Graeme Struthers said he had discussed the plans with unions and gave assurances that there would be no jobs cut within this or the next financial year.
“As the report sets out, there will be an upskilling of staff.” he said, adding that engagement with the unions would take place throughout the development of the new systems.
The council plans to use already established automation systems and begin development of the programme in September with the automated services going live in the spring of next year.