30 May 2024

Talking AI in Aberdeen

Talking AI in Aberdeen  image
Image: TippaPatt / Shutterstock.com.

From refuse collection to school terms and council tax, Aberdeen City Council is now using Large Language Models (LLMs) and generative AI to provide 24/7 round-the-clock query support – answering twice as many questions as before. With the chatbot’s efficiency continuing to improve even further, Andy MacDonald, Executive Director of Corporate Services at Aberdeen City Council shares his insights and advice on generative AI adoption in the world of local government.

In an era defined by technological advancements, the integration of innovative solutions presents a significant opportunity for local authorities to optimise and bolster efficiency, especially amid the perpetual challenge of balancing escalating demands with finite resources. At Aberdeen City Council, we constantly strive to be one of the most forward-looking local authorities and are focused on leveraging cutting-edge technologies to modernise operations and better serve our constituents.

As a part of our ongoing digital transformation, grasping the immense potential presented by AI and large language models, we embarked on a transformative journey to revolutionise our query-handling procedures. Taking our first steps in 2020, launching a chatbot affectionally known as AB-1, we became the first local authority in Scotland with a virtual assistant – below, are some insights and advice the team here has learned along the way, that will hopefully inspire your next AI transformation steps.

Empowering citizens with 24/7 support

The deployment of AI assistants can represent a paradigm shift in service delivery, offering citizens seamless access to round-the-clock assistance. For example, with AB-1 we are now able to handle queries on topics such as refuse collection, school term dates and council tax. The chatbots are able to respond in human language to a constituent’s query in real time, at any time.

Furthermore, for a chatbot to truly be an investment into long-term efficiency, it is important to ensure a feedback cycle is put in place. Much like how we would approach learning and development for our employees, it is important for chatbots to constantly learn and improve in order to ensure the chatbot answers queries the right way. To achieve this, we meticulously worked with Microsoft’s developers when first developing the AB-1 chatbot to guarantee we’re set up to optimise and develop the upgraded chatbot’s training, so it can keep analysing and learning from past interactions and so that the in-house team here at Aberdeen can continue to lead further enhancements if needed.

With continued improvements made to the chatbot, the latest iteration has shown that on top of drastically reducing call and email volumes to the council, it can now answer twice as many questions as the iteration before and we have hopes for it improving even further.

Giving staff valuable time back to focus on the better delivery of care

Harnessing the power of AI chatbots not only improves the efficiency and quality of service delivery to our citizens, but it also frees up valuable staff time. By automating routine tasks where possible, through the use of AB-1, our personnel are liberated to focus on endeavours that can make the most positive impact, whether it be delivering compassionate social work or forging meaningful connections with constituents – we’re focused on ultimately enabling our team to better help Aberdeen citizens at a truly human level.

Additionally, generative AI reveals crucial potential in multi-lingual support. At Aberdeen City Council, we are actively pursuing a project to further develop AB-1 into a polyglot system, as part of our commitment to enhancing inclusivity and delivering services to everyone. Initially designed to handle basic questions in Doric, the regional dialect, AB-1 is now being expanded to support several other languages, including some of the most widely spoken in the area, such as Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Russian. Through the use of translation services, our goal is to break down language barriers and ensure that all members of our community can access the support they need.

Furthermore, we are exploring the possibility of granting the new AB-1 access to additional datasets, such as service history and geo-location, which could enable the chatbot to provide even more comprehensive and accurate responses. These enhancements will be developed in line with ethical principles governing AI usage. Ultimately, our aim is for the chatbot to anticipate questions and offer proactive suggestions.

Our journey with AI-powered chatbots signifies a significant advancement in our ongoing quest to embrace innovation and better serve our community. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is achievable, we remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

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