We have recently written blogs around robotics and the benefits that AI technology can have at UK councils, but what about potential downsides for authorities and in particular their employees?

Artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT is the next game changing technology. It’s already making waves in various job sectors, and with good reason – automation is the future, and AI technology delivers this.

At the time of writing, there is virtually no regulation for AI, though it was temporarily banned in Italy until recently. This means individuals and businesses are essentially free to do as they please with the technology. While AI has a great deal of positive potential, it can also pose challenges and disruption to traditional job roles. Even drivers could be replaced by cars powered by AI technology, and major manufacturers are already testing this.

Who is at risk of being left behind as the future marches on? Below are some examples.


AI technology can automatically process basic tasks

As mentioned above, AI technology delivers in automation. Mundane and repetitive tasks like data entry, document processing, or basic customer service queries are currently performed by local authority employees. These can instead be completed by upcoming generations of AI-powered chatbots or robotic process automation with minimal fuss. As a result, local authorities need to start thinking about how and where they deploy their resources in the future, when AI technology can process tasks automatically in the background.


AI can quickly analyse data and generate insights

Data analysis is a core business in many sectors, including local authorities. Human analysts and researchers comb through vast quantities of data collected from daily operations. The data is valuable because it allows you to gain key insights into customer behaviour. A good example is spotting trends, such as increased incidents of graffiti or anti-social behaviour in a specific area within the authority. AI technology can automatically analyse vast amounts of data to derive these valuable insights instead. As such, there is no requirement to employ as many human analysts within this business area, and their role needs re-working to support the proactive elements of problem-solving based upon the data presented to them.


Administration can be largely replaced by AI technology

Currently, whilst most local authorities are embracing digital technology to greater and lesser extents, there remains a lot of manual, legacy paper-based processes at most councils. Oftentimes the employees are wedded to these legacy ways of working, either because they think digital systems are going to be too expensive and complicated, or because of the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The thing is, AI technology can be used to streamline administrative processes – digitising paperwork, automating workflows, optimising resource allocation, etc. Work schedules, for example, can be route-optimised and updated in real-time. Automated administration negates the need for less skilled administrative staff.


Middle management is in danger of AI replacement

Middle management roles are especially vulnerable to replacement by AI technology, if they’re not at risk of being made obsolete altogether. Similar to above, the administrative and bureaucratic side of organisations are much more subject to AI job disruption compared to boots on the ground workers carrying out tasks. These individuals should be the most concerned compared to their peers, as AI bridges the gap between lower-tier workers and the higher echelons of management. Middle managers will need to show how they can continue to add value and remain relevant in their organisation against the backdrop of AI technology changes.


It’s not all bad – AI technology can create jobs too

AI technology can replace certain job functions, that much is clear. However, it’s important to realise that AI is still in its infancy. As such, the deployment of AI can also create new opportunities and roles. For example, the technology will still need to be maintained by trained technicians. Moreover, AI technology currently lacks several important skills – creativity, critical thinking, empathy, and complex problem-solving, just to name a few. Jobs that involve bespoke, intimate and specialised knowledge around a local authority area such as strategic decision-making, community engagement, and other tasks requiring human discretion and judgement are much less likely to be fully replaced by AI.


What can I do if I’m worried about my local authority job?

Unless the UK government implements regulation around the deployment of AI technology, it will inevitably have a strong impact at local authorities over the next ten years. To effectively respond to this, it is especially important for individuals to adapt to the changes and update their skillsets. This can involve local authority training, expanding knowledge in emerging technologies, and embracing roles that specifically require human interaction and expertise that cannot currently be superseded by AI technology.