Aberdeen City Council and Microsoft launch Chatbots

Aberdeen City Council have worked with Microsoft Services to launch a chatbot that will respond to queries from employees, and questions from citizens helping to cut down on the number of calls coming into Council services departments.

The new Chatbot teams have been helping respond to approximately 200 individual queries per day.

The chatbot is designed to have a bit of personality and even understands phrases from the local Doric dialect. “We are the first authority in Scotland to roll out chatbots and the feedback has been fantastic,” says Andy MacDonald,Director of Customer Services at Aberdeen City Council. “Microsoft also trained our developers in best practices, so we can continue to improve and expand AB-1’s learning so that our bot can support our citizens on more council services.”

Before launching the chatbots, if employees had a question about vacation time, they had to email or call the city’s helpline before getting the answer. Now, employees can interact with a chatbot and get an answer almost instantly.

The city’s external chatbot, AB-1, deals with queries relating to refuse collection, council tax, road and lighting faults, and education. “Citizens with access to online systems can transact with us 100 percent digitally,” says MacDonald. 

The Council also implemented robotic process automation (RPA) to speed up legacy back-office processes. Among them were functions such as changes of address and updating landlord and tenant information, which required manual data entry.

By the end of 2019, a number of processes for automation were set in motion. For example, students’ education plans are now automatically uploaded via a central system instead of teachers having to retype information from each plan. This has freed up resources—equivalent to having 14 new teachers.

When COVID-19 hit, working remotely in a seamless manner was critical. “Within 40 hours of the first stages of lockdown, we had people working from home,” said MacDonald. “Now thousands of us are working from home and we’re all using Microsoft Teams for video conferencing and chat. Our internal bot is integrated in Teams too. It’s been a great experience and we’ve been able to keep working effectively.”

Once the city went fully remote, chat messages in Teams skyrocketed from about 40,000 a week to 365,000. In addition, there were 12 times as many online meetings and 14 times more calls through Teams.

The Council is finding broad recognition for its efforts. Partly in recognition of its commitment to digital transformation, Aberdeen has been shortlisted for the Council of the Year category at the 2020 LGC Awards—the only Scottish authority in the running.