For those who were around in the late ’90s and early 2000s for the glory days of AOL Instant Messenger’s SmarterChild, the idea that chatbots could be seen as an innovation might strike you as odd.
But it’s true: Chatbots are in, and major technology companies like Facebook are betting big on their ability to reduce complexities, augment self-service and scale.
Typically, such revolutions in technology take some time before they trickle down to state and local governments, but in North Carolina, the conversation around chatbots is already buzzing.
The state has deployed a task force with the mission of evaluating and assessing all business processes to identify prime opportunities for automation, says North Carolina Deputy State CIO and Chief Data Officer John Correllus, who also oversees the state’s innovation center after this week’s departure of chief technology and innovation officer Eric Ellis.
This includes both internal and external use cases, although a potential deployment around tacking on chatbots to assist with the IT department’s help desk operations is warming up; officials there say it could improve and reduce the time it takes to close out tickets.
“We measure the simple things that a help desk would measure. How long was a ticket was out there before the service was complete? How long does it take a caller to reach an agency to kick off the ticket creation process?” Correllus says. “That’s where technology like chatbots really can help out. You may not need to place a call. That ticket may not even come into the system or they can open a ticket through a chatbot.”
While North Carolina is busy considering how it could blaze its own trails with chatbots, a similar discussion occurred earlier this year in Singapore concerning the use of chatbots for government services, reports Tech In Asia. On the federal level, conversations about using chatbots in the GSA to help improve accessibility to services for people with disabilities are also happening, reports FCW.
Getting Government to Go Innovative
Over the next few months, North Carolina will continue its internal evaluations and assessments, then determine whether to proceed with a proof of concept or a full-fledged pilot, he says. But the fact that conversations like this are happening in the IT organization of a state as large as North Carolina is in itself an achievement.
“Interacting with government was not that easy and it continues to be not that easy, but we’re making great strides,” says Correllus.
It starts, as many revolutionary concepts do, with great leadership, he adds. Governor Pat McCrory tasked his staffers with making state government more accessible, approachable and easier to work with, says Correllus. By having that permission come from the top, it allowed state government workers to more easily break out of the mold.
“That is real important to have that leadership sponsorship, to be able to not be in what I call ‘government risk-averse’ mode, delivering and doing the same things over and over again because it’s comfortable. ‘Uncomfortable’ is a not a bad thing,” he says. “When we talk about innovation, innovation should be uncomfortable. We should be looking at things that push me, push our organization to look at better, more efficient ways to conduct business.”