November 2, 2018
City Government Enables Citizens to Find Answers Online with an Attunix SmartBot
Client: City of Corona
Products and Services: Attunix SmartBot
Technologies: QnA Maker | Microsoft Bot Framework | Text Analytics, Azure SQL | Cognitive Services | Address Search | Bing Search | Bing Text Analytics
Organization Size: : Large (160k + Residents)
Headquarters: United Sates, California
A city’s official website is often the leading mode of communication for constituents. From locating a city official’s contact information to licensing a pet, a city’s website is a one-stop informational hub for its citizens. That said, navigation of a site with many services can be daunting for the end user.
For this reason, the City of Corona contacted Attunix to build a proof of concept (POC) of a chatbot to demonstrate to internal stakeholders that a bot would adequately address the City’s needs to enable its citizens to locate information easily.
“Corona’s goal is to increase engagement, and our City’s website is one of the primary modern platforms that allow us to communicate with our citizens,” said Talbert. “Websites are often complex and layered in government making it difficult to find information.”
The City of Corona sought to modernize and amplify its ability to respond to citizen questions. City management recognized an opportunity to utilize the vast amount of information on the website, simplify the citizen experience, and reduce staff time spent on internal calls. This trifecta of business outcomes benefits the City and its constituents, allowing taxpayer monies to be better spent on other more pressing City concerns.
Overhauling the City’s congested call center
The intent of the chatbot was to introduce a level of automation that would empower citizens to more easily find answers to their questions and reduce the City’s volume of incoming phone calls—many of which involved issues that can be answered online. Minimizing these calls allows staff members to refocus their time toward addressing more critical inquires and improve overall response times.
“Using a chatbot allows us to engage citizens 24/7, providing them answers to common questions and cut through the complexity websites sometimes bring,” said Corona’s City Manager Darrell Talbert.
The City’s bot works nights and weekends, allowing a city resident to find answers to questions at times that best suit the individual’s lifestyle. Additionally, in driving more people to the website, the City can increase the utilization of the many services available on its site.
“Mr. Talbert’s vision is to make Corona data driven and leverage technology to help the City be more efficient and effective for its citizens, “said the City’s Chief Information Officer Chris McMasters. “By using AI, we are not only able to answer common questions but train the bot to have answers to pertinent topics that are identified from data collected during interaction with citizens that might not be caught in a first pass.”
Scoping the technology needs of citizens
Over the course of a couple weeks, Attunix met with the City’s Deputy Chief Informational Officer Kyle Edgeworth to understand the City’s site requirements and the end user perspective.
During these scoping sessions, Attunix learned the specific goals for the project were to simplify the citizen experience, reduce the costs of fielding common requests by phone, improve response times to citizen questions, and increase the utilization of the many services available on its website.
The City also sought to collate all questions into a knowledge base that could be updated with answers on an ongoing basis—a smart way to ensure citizens will always be able to find the information they need.
“We always want our citizens to find what they need when they need it,” said Edgeworth. “Our City Council thrives on transparency and open data, and these scoping sessions were great for mapping out our problems and solutions. They also showed us how invested Attunix is in helping our city and our citizens.”
A SmartBot built on Microsoft technologies
For the POC, Attunix employed its SmartBot—a customized chatbot experience that utilizes multiple Microsoft technologies to quickly and easily link people and information.
One key Microsoft technology that Attunix used for the project was QnA Maker, a Microsoft Azure offering that allows users to build, train and publish a simple question-and-answer bot based on FAQ URLs, structured documents, product manuals and editorial content. Other Microsoft technologies used include the Microsoft Bot Framework, Text Analytics, Azure SQL, Cognitive Services, Address Search, Bing Search, and Bing Text Analytics.
Attunix Application Modernization Lead Justin Billig explained how these technologies enable the bot: “When a citizen has a question,” said Billig, “they go to the bot service on the website and type in their question. This goes to the QnA Maker, and to the text analytics piece to determine what the person is trying to say. It then logs into the City of Corona website database to search for the answer. If it isn’t there, the bot figures out the keywords from what the user is asking and does a keyword search on Bing and pulls results back to the site.”
What may sound simple is actually a quite complex combination of a deep knowledge of the Microsoft technology stack and development expertise. Keeping that in mind, Attunix has recently leveraged for several projects using Bot technology and Cognitive Services. “A Microsoft Bot Framework is simple for us to deploy, “said Billig. “We are able to set it up quickly without a lot of coding.”
Needless to say, the POC was a success, and the City of Corona engaged Attunix to expand the scope of the chatbot project.
“Working with Attunix on the chatbot has our management team looking into other opportunities to use other Microsoft technologies to better the lives of our citizens and our employees,” said Edgeworth.
What does this mean for the City of Corona and its citizens? “The system will continue to get smarter,” said McMasters, “with more interaction providing even greater value to Corona.”
End user success benefits everyone
Government agencies are steadily embracing an Open Government perspective, making data accessible and transparent to taxpayers. Following the success of the City of Corona’s chatbot, Attunix has begun to roll out similar solutions to other city governments. An Open Government approach is one that demonstrates to citizens that their government is accessible to them personally, and accessibility is a core principle behind chatbots as a solution.
“Solutions are all about the end user,” said Brian O’Donnell, managing principal at Attunix. “At the end of the chatbot experience, the user is left with specific information that gives them the best answer to address their needs. It’s that positive experience that leaves people feeling that the organization understands their needs and respects their time.”
Attunix delivers a unique approach to understanding each organization’s business requirements and goals and then views these from the perspective of the end user. They then create technology solutions that meets the needs of the situation.
“Not every partnership is a true partnership,” said Edgeworth. “The partnership with Attunix has been a true partnership—they took the time to understand where we needed to go as a city and how best to help our citizens. It’s been a wonderful partnership, and we’re looking forward to future opportunities with Attunix.”
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