Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a real buzz around it right now. It features in every tech and local government forum and news feed in some way.

There’s no debate that AI can help those working in local authorities to improve their services and make more effective use of taxpayers’ money. We’ve seen plenty of examples recently of where councils’ investment in AI has led to cost savings, including Derby City Council’s digital assistants Darice and Ali, which assist residents to seek help, either through the website or the council’s main phone line.  

So when it comes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems within local authorities, does AI have a role to play? How is it helping, or can it help, to improve the way we do things to deliver services to customers in a more efficient or effective way? 

In this latest blog, our Principal Consultant John Kimball, explores the current situation, where we think it is heading, and what the future could look like. 

How AI is being used in ERP 

As you might expect AI is already in-built in modern ERP systems, in a basic form. We mentioned Derby City Council previously and their use of digital assistants, and it’s a very similar picture across ERP. The developments are mainly around digital assistants and the use of chatbots. 

A man sitting down in a blue shirt holding a mobile phone in his left hand, looking at the screen, though his face is not shown. The mobile phone is facing away from the viewer and there is an illustrated overlay on the image showing a mock conversation with the phone user and a chat bot

These can certainly be beneficial in supporting a better customer experience, however, in Socitm Advisory’s experience of using them with customers, there is still some way to go before they are mature enough to quickly and easily realise significant operational and financial benefits. Beyond the basics they can be labour intensive to set up and there isn’t off-the-shelf support available from vendors in the main. 

Also, ERP packages already offer a general level of self-service portals, whether it be to employees or third-party suppliers or customers, but again functionality is limited; if queries are beyond the parameters of the scope on offer, the user will need to speak to a person. 

A little disappointing so far, right? 

What it might look like in the future 

We believe big developments are coming and that AI is likely to be used in a number of ways when it comes to ERP. For example, we know that one major ERP vendor is currently looking at customer experience (CX), with a focus on process automation. 

Through process automation many repetitive functions that are currently performed by people or workflows could be eliminated. This means service delivery that involves interacting with people outside of the organisation could potentially be made more efficient, whether that is supporting recruitment, managing suppliers or customers. 

This could benefit councils if they look to implement and adapt this in other areas, for example HR. HR functions including the helpdesk, self-service, performance management, recruitment etc. could all be in one place rather than separate modules. AI could soon be consolidating all of the council’s systems to provide one system and one version of the truth. That is exciting, and where real operational and financial benefits will be realised. 

Maximising use of AI in local government now 

Whilst the major vendors continue their investment in AI, right now councils can benefit from the AI functionality most likely already built into their existing systems. For example, using chat bots to reduce the need to speak to a person. Whilst functionality will be limited, there is still real value to be gained by implementing this to improve customer experience and relieve pressures on council people resources. There is also huge value in getting prepared for what is coming down the line from ERP vendors, so analyse your current processes and workflows, identify repetitive tasks, and be ready to utilise the new functionality when it comes on board. 

Getting started 

Optimising AI use as part of your ERP solution could be an area you would benefit from having an independent view on. If you’d like to consider an independent assessment, or you simply don’t have the capacity to review your readiness for the next iteration of AI functionality, our consultants at Socitm Advisory can help.  

Our ERP experts work with councils every day, so have a wealth of experience and expertise to support your strategy and decision-making, 100% independent and vendor-agnostic. Read more about the ERP services we offer, and what our customers say about our recent ERP work