Young woman pitching to colleagues in office setting

Bucks Council embraces ‘Dragons’ Den’ approach for AI roll-out

Buckinghamshire Council is using Microsoft technology to make efficiencies and save up to 90 minutes a day on routine tasks, while also improving accessibility. And this is just the beginning, it says.

Buckinghamshire Council, which adopted Copilot for Microsoft 365 in 2023, says the new technology has been a “game changer” in its quest to improve efficiency and make its hard-pressed resources stretch further.

Into the Den

The Council introduced Copilot by hosting a Dragons’ Den-style event and inviting employee teams to pitch for the right to use the technology and explain how they would put the AI tool to good use. The winners were given the opportunity to put their ideas into practice   

“We had some fantastic pitches,” says Tony Ellis, the Council’s IT Service Director. “Ultimately the plan was that they were all going to get licences. But we were starting to tease out that journey of how people would make use of it.”

Around 300 employees were given access to the Generative AI assistant, which integrates into Word, Teams, Excel and other Microsoft programmes. 

‘Pleasure to work with’

Marie White, Head of Customer Experience, says that Copilot has been a “game changer” for the contact centre, which deals with around 8,500 calls a week.

The AI tool is improving quality and complaints procedures, as well as streamlining response drafting and call summarising, she says. Average handle times are down by 30 seconds to two minutes a call. 

Marie believes Copilot’s full potential is yet to be unlocked.

“It promises a future where we can proactively identify areas for improvement, before they become a drain on resources,” she says. “I’m confident we will continue to see the benefits.”

And Business Support co-ordinator Greta Belgrove, who looks after the Council’s Executive Assistants, says: “It has saved up to 90 minutes a day. It makes generating actions from a meeting very quick, but we’re still working on making the most of it in Excel.

“For me it’s been a pleasure to work with.”

Bigger wins

Buckinghamshire Council is one of the largest – and youngest – local authorities in the UK. Formed early in 2020 after a merger of five councils, it moved quickly to adapt to the pandemic and has worked to keep up the pace of digital transformation ever since. 

While the Council hoped Copilot would drive efficiencies, it was also excited about the potential to transform working practices. 

“Local authorities are seeing this technology as a partial silver bullet,” says Peter Parfitt, the Council’s Head of Digital.

“No Council is swimming in cash. But we wanted to deploy Copilot, not because we had to do it, but because it was the right thing to do.”

The Council believes even bigger wins will follow when it employs Copilot to enhance frontline services, such as social care and housing, which account for the bulk of its budget.

“If we can be more efficient that’s fantastic,” says Peter, “But if we can trim just 1% off the cost of social care, that’s where the real pressures are.”

Improving accessibility 

Copilot is also improving accessibility – helping hearing-impaired staff transcribe Teams meetings quickly and accurately, for example. And the Council believes Copilot could improve experiences for neurodiverse staff, too. 

“We talk about savings, but it’s the inclusivity of the technology that’s transformational,” says Tony Ellis.

Ethical framework 

The public sector is beginning to recognise the true potential of AI, but also realises how important it is for the technology to be used ethically. Maintaining the trust of both the people who use it, and the people Councils serve, is vital, argues Peter.

While Microsoft’s responsible AI framework provided a good base, Buckinghamshire’s Copilot scheme also prompted the creation of the Council’s own AI Governance Board. 

“There must be a human accountable for everything,” says Peter. “We always have a human in the loop.” 

Spreading best practice

Buckinghamshire Council facilitated the adoption of Copilot by creating a Council-wide well-resourced collaboration group that offered guidance and a chat thread.

But it is also actively involved in a burgeoning public sector Copilot user group with 400 members meeting monthly, which Tony co-chairs. This fosters cooperation and the sharing of tips and best practice across local authorities and other public sector organisations.

“It’s a lovely mechanism to come together,” he says, “especially when the headlines in the public sector are often so gloomy.”

Early days

While Buckinghamshire Council says it has had a positive experience using Copilot so far, it feels its AI journey is only just beginning. 

“The phrase I keep hearing is, ‘the cavalry has arrived’,” says Tony. “People are pleased finally to have a tool to help them.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone, and things are moving fast. We can see it’s going to make a real difference, but it’s still early days.” 

Click here to learn more about AI and Copilot for Microsoft 365