COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. We all have concerns. We all have questions. Many are turning to their local government agencies for answers.
A recent article on Governing.com reported, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when it comes to communications during a health crisis, government needs to be credible, correct and timely.”i It’s a difficult task for government workers. Phone lines are jammed, and email boxes are overflowing trying to keep up with the demand.
Workers at state and local government agencies are fielding an enormous number of inquiries, such as:
- Health Departments hear “Will warm weather stop the outbreak? How safe is it to take someone to the emergency room? What are the most common symptoms of COVID-19?”
- Departments of Economic Development are flooded with questions about small business loans and economic impact.
- Meanwhile, the Department of Labor fields urgent requests about applying for unemployment, tracking claims, and the guidelines for businesses that remain partially open—such as restaurants offering carryout or delivery meals, and restrictions and recommendations for their remaining employees.
Amid the chaos, the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) decided to step up and do something for its concerned constituents—deploy a Question and Answer chatbot on its web site for fast, accurate information.
The Georgia Technology Authority already had a significant Unisys CloudForte™ platform for hosting their Azure cloud—why not use it to host live, self-serve Q&A chatbots to help field urgent state agency questions? The GDOL was able to quickly pull hundreds of FAQs from the CDC web site (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html). Unisys helped them load these Q&As into a cloud-based bot that uses Azure's Cognitive Services intelligent repository and its Web App Bot as its front end. The chatbot was prominently placed on the GDOL web site, giving citizens one-click answers to their COVID questions.
Other departments in Georgia government are adopting the bot response system as well—with just a single line of code. Unisys is working with GTA to on-board these departments, and many are providing state-specific responses in an easy to edit, publish, and test interface using Azure’s Cognitive Services QnA Maker (https://www.qnamaker.ai/). Departments can then quickly load any all new Q&As when needed. As of today, the following state of Georgia web sites are hosting the COVID-19 chatbot:
- Department of Labor https://dol.georgia.gov/
- Department of Public Health https://dph.georgia.gov/
- Georgia’s Government contact page https://georgia.gov/contact-georgiagov
- Governor’s constituent services page https://gov.georgia.gov/covid-19-faq
By using the state of Georgia chatbot, residents can ask and receive immediate answers to COVID-19 and Georgia-specific questions without human intervention. This is freeing up valuable human resources, email, and telephone systems during the crisis. The cost is minimal for the state to provide compared to the human interaction that was required to field the many calls and reply to the avalanche of emails individually. And citizens get a timelier answer. Kudos to the state of Georgia and the GDOL for leveraging its cloud for the greater good!
“By early May – less than a month after initial deployment – chatbot inquiries already topped 1.4 million with almost 692,000 users,” said Calvin Rhodes, State CIO and GTA Executive Director. “The ability to deploy chatbot quickly on our high-traffic websites has enabled the state to connect Georgians with critical information when they need it most.”
i Governing.com May 1, 2020. https://www.governing.com/now/Governments-Ramp-Up-Communications-as-COVID-19-Accelerates.html