Microsoft device on a table by a window with houses in background

Wiltshire Council is using virtual assistants to do repetitive payroll checks, so staff can focus on helping people

A council in England is using virtual assistants (VAs) to check it is paying staff and schools correctly.

Wiltshire Council is using Microsoft technology to complete repetitive tasks such as checking payrolls in its Human Resources department. This frees up staff to work on more critical tasks that directly help the 435,000 residents in Wiltshire and the council.

VAs are currently checking more than 43 payrolls each month, which cover schools and academies in the region as well as council staff. Payroll checks need to be completed before payments can be made to ensure the correct amount of money is paid to the right person or organisation. VAs are able to conduct checks on one payroll per minute, compared with one every 10 minutes for a member of staff. These processes can now also be completed at any time of the day or night.

No jobs will be lost in the VA rollout, and council bosses will offer staff training so they can learn new digital skills and automate even more mundane processes.

The move will also allow Wiltshire Council, which is based in Trowbridge, to increase revenue by taking on more school payrolls in the area.

Diagram explaining Virtual Assistants

How Virtual Assistants work

Ian Blair-Pilling, Cabinet Member for IT and Digitalisation, said: “This is a really exciting time and we have taken a huge step forward on our digital transformation journey.

“Leveraging technology is a key part of our strategy and will shape how we deliver our services in the future, in the most cost-effective and efficient way for Wiltshire residents.

“We are an innovative council, and we plan to capitalise on further technological advancements to deliver our business plan. Our staff have been enthusiastic in embracing these opportunities and are excited about the changes it will bring to the way they deliver services.’’

Wiltshire Council will put VAs to work on a further 10 processes in the coming months, with more to follow.

Woman standing up by window using Microsoft Surface device and Pen

Council bosses will offer staff training so they can learn new digital skills and automate even more mundane processes

It is the latest step for staff in their aim to create one of the most cutting-edge councils in the country. They launched their One Microsoft Cloud Navigator plan last year that will see the council offer more secure services to residents online, so they can be accessed at a time that suits them, while staff will also be contactable via official social media channels. The council will also explore how a bot may help their 470,000 residents with basic enquiries in a number of languages. Staff will also use Microsoft Dynamics to draw more insights from the data produced by the new system in order to make better and faster decisions.

Phil Sheen, Head of Public Sector at Thoughtonomy, which worked with Microsoft to roll out the VAs, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Wiltshire Council, its members and staff to deliver the best services possible to residents, businesses and visitors to the county.

“Our strategic engagement with the Wiltshire team will see us continue to work closely with them over the coming year to develop their virtual assistant capability. This also provides a new range of digital skills which will be embedded in the council, and continues to demonstrate Wiltshire as a leading innovator in digital public services and citizen outcomes.”

“This is a key part of Wiltshire Council’s digital programme, which will make it simpler, quicker and easier for residents to access and enable services, while delivering significant savings to the council.”