Transforming public services: Oxfordshire County Council's digital transformation with AI & IoT

Oxfordshire County Council is currently piloting the use of generative AI to support various administrative tasks, aiming to enhance efficiency and deliver better outcomes while managing costs effectively. Tim Spiers, Director of IT, Innovation, Digital and Transformation at Oxfordshire County Council, shared insights on their ongoing digital transformation initiative, focusing on the integration of AI to streamline operations and improve services for residents.

Oxfordshire County Council's digital transformation with AI & IoT

Spiers highlighted that the primary challenge in any digital transformation effort is not just the technology but the adoption and implementation across service directorates. “Technology is one thing, but it's the adoption. It's how it's applied, and how you deliver that change. Human nature is such that change is not always easy, even if we know it's the right thing to do,” he said. The real difficulty lies in transforming underlying processes and changing the way services are delivered.

Timothy_S May 24He elaborated on the fundamental approach to transformation: moving from the current state to a future vision: “What I'm saying is I believe technology is fairly straightforward. The harder part is getting from the current state to the future state.” Aligning technology with the Council’s wider strategy and administration priorities is crucial. The underlying process changes necessary to achieve the desired future state present the biggest challenge.

Overcoming challenges and fostering innovation

The Council's approach to fostering innovation includes promoting a culture that embraces change and a digital mindset. “We have a corporate value, which is daring to do things differently. Culture and mindset are very important,” Spiers emphasised. The Council’s innovation service collaborates with various partners, including Innovate UK and other public and private sector bodies, to drive innovation across Oxfordshire and beyond.

When discussing the biggest IT challenges, Spiers pointed to the adoption and application of technology to improve services. “The drive to cloud has its challenges. The costs can be a pressure,” he explained. Another ongoing challenge is cybersecurity, where the focus is not only on deploying the latest technology but also on educating the workforce to recognise and respond to threats. “Security is an ever-present threat. It's often about educating our workforce and our councillors to spot phishing attacks and other threats,” he added.

Spiers provided specific examples of how technology, including AI and IoT, is being used to improve public services. “We are exploring the use of generative AI in back-office functions, such as HR and finance, where we believe it can improve efficiency by automating repetitive tasks. For instance, AI is being piloted to handle business admin tasks, which allows our staff to focus on more strategic activities,” he said.

In terms of IoT, he highlighted the Council’s digital infrastructure programme aimed at enhancing connectivity across the county: “We are leading a consortium of councils in a government-funded programme to understand how 5G can improve IoT and smart device usage. For example, we are deploying small cell networks in city centres to boost connectivity, which supports smart city initiatives and improves services like traffic management and public safety.”

Aligning technology with strategic goals

Cybersecurity and data privacy are paramount in all digital transformation projects. The Council has a dedicated information management team and stringent policies to safeguard sensitive data. Spiers stressed the importance of not becoming complacent. “We know it's an ever-present threat. We also know that a lot of traditional crime has moved into cybercrime because it's easier. We respect the threat and do everything we can, but we are not complacent,” he shared.

To ensure that new digital solutions align with broader strategic goals, the Council develops comprehensive strategies that incorporate both technical and service-oriented perspectives. “How do we align, how do we underpin the services that we provide with better technology, more reliable technology? Our approach is to be customer-centric, focusing on what is required,” he explained.

Spiers summarised the Council’s forward-looking approach, emphasising their commitment to leveraging technology to create a greener, fairer, and healthier Oxfordshire: “We want to use technology to improve the services we provide, making Oxfordshire a greener, fairer, and healthier place for our residents. We are open to innovating and doing things differently because we believe in leveraging those benefits.”

The Council is planning to use fibre-enabled community centres as hubs that offer a range of services, including NHS, Adult Social Care, and Community Groups. This initiative will bring services and facilities directly into local communities, reduce travel, and increase partnership working across organisations.

In conclusion, Oxfordshire County Council's journey towards digital transformation is marked by a strategic embrace of AI and other technologies, a focus on overcoming human and process-related challenges, and a steadfast commitment to improving services for its residents.

Also Read