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  • For Governments Looking to Expand Their Constituent Services with AI, The Sky’s the Limit

    By NIC Inc. | | Posted in Digital Government Solutions

    BY: Dana Wilson, GM at NIC Inc. (Mississippi)

    Close your eyes and imagine people issuing the following voice commands and getting instant replies from government:

    “Alexa, please renew my driver’s license …”                        

    “Alexa, ask (name of your state) to update my voter registration…”

    “Alexa, when does my fishing license expire?”

    Is this real-time, back-and-forth communication with state and local government actually happening these days or is it only science fiction at this point?

    The answer is “a little of both.”

    While it’s true that voice command service for government agencies isn’t widely available in most states or in many locales, you can bet it’s coming soon. With more than 50% of all Americans already using digital assistants, this leading-edge technology service—specifically virtual assistants a​nd chatbots (instant chats with customer service) with which we’ve all become familiar—are getting tested and rolled out at all levels of government across the U.S. Indeed, the public sector is quickly embracing “conversational” technology as a means of making all kinds of information about its services more readily available to ​its constituents.

    In Mississippi, NIC is leading the way in tech innovation among state and local governments. We operate a public-private partnership and build and maintain the Magnolia State’s official website. Since 2010, we have developed more than 250 digital government solutions, including websites and payment processing applications. Fueling that growth are the new technologies we’ve deployed that leverage artificial intelligence, allowing us to deliver a wide assortment of faster and improved services to the state’s 2.9 million residents.

    Case in point: Since the start of 2018, “MISSI,” Mississippi’s government chatbot, has answered more than 52,500 questions from consumers—about 3,500 queries per month. This dependable, no-maintenance information bot has served the state well and very efficiently. On any given day, “MISSI" provides quick information about our most frequently used online licenses, helps consumers search for, claim or report unclaimed property, learn more about their state, answer requests for vital records and much more. When you assume that each of those questions would normally have involved an eight- to 10-minute phone call with a live operator, it’s mind-boggling to think of the cost savings achieved.

    Likewise, Mississippi was an early adopter of Amazon Alexa to enhance our government services, adopting the voice assistant technology in early 2016. Uses range from giving traffic alerts within an eight-mile radius to dispensing local news, offering fun facts about the state and providing contact information for the public officials who govern Mississippi. In terms of cost savings, Amazon skills have saved around 15​% of the time the customer service team normally spent answering citizen questions.

    From where we sit, it’s been a joy to watch the rocket-ship-like buildout and adoption of these AI innovations and the real difference they’ve made in improving connections to the Mississippi residents we serve.

    The exciting part, however, is what’s to come.

    Looking Ahead

    At NIC, we see immediate areas of opportunity for governmental use of chatbot and voice assistant services as the technologies behind them continue to mature and improve. In the chatbot-service space, automating back-end processes could benefit greatly from bots, especially if a bot can speed up a process where information obtained is largely the same each time. We also envision the continual increase of chatbots in place of help desk phone calls, reducing the number of calls and resources required to handle them.

    For Alexa-centric programs at the state and local levels, public agencies could utilize the technology in many ways. The first, and most exciting, is the possibility of an end-to-end experience in which citizens complete a purchase or other transaction (e.g. “Alexa, ask 'MISSI' to pay my 2019 property taxes…”). A second could be to supplement your cell phone call, connecting you directly to state or local government (“Alexa, ask MISSI to call the Department of Transportation...”). Finally, using voice to able the disabled, allowing disabled citizens to use their voice to access government without ever having to interact with a screen.

    Six Factors to Consider in Making the Case for New Technology

    For state and local governments behind the curve in adopting tech innovations such as voice assistants and chatbots, there’s really nothing in ​the way of getting started and nothing preventing ​them from reaping the cost and time savings as soon as possible. Most AI offerings can be self-funded or funded at nominal cost with a partner like NIC.

    That being said, here’s a brief check list of things to consider in getting started:

    1. Start Early – Prepare for research, planning and learning technology. It’s not overly complicated, but you’ll want to be grounded as you begin having conversations.
    2. Leverage Tools – Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are a number of existing toolsets and knowledge bases that will ease development and deployment.
    3. Develop A Strategy – Will your skill or bot be formal, casual or single-service focused? Who do you want your bot to be when it grows up?
    4. Start Small, Plan Big – Don’t stretch your bot too thin. Start with modest goals but plan for scaling to accommodate increasing needs and capabilities.
    5. Focus on Content and Delivery – Think about why a user would download your app or use your bot? What are they really looking for, and what information or guidance do you need to develop to help them?
    6. Know Your Audience – Everyone interacts with the government in different ways, but don’t develop for the exceptions or the edge cases. What personas will be turning to you and what can you develop to serve their most common needs?

    For more information about NIC’s suite of virtual assistant and chatbot solutions, contact Doug Rogers at doug.rogers@egov.com or Dana Wilson at dana.wilson@egov.com or go to egov.com.

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