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Aylesbury Vale tests Amazon Alexa for council services

21/06/17

District council talks with company about accreditation to use its voice activated artificial intelligence system with aim of launching first services within weeks

Aylesbury Vale District Council is moving towards use of Amazon’s Alexa voice service for a limited number of information and transaction requests as part of a long term plan to harness artificial intelligence (AI) in its customer interactions.

Maybonne HassellThe council’s digital director Maryvonne Hassell (pictured) told UKAuthority’s Rise of the Bots conference that it has been building a skills process to align with the voice service – operating through a range of Amazon devices – and running a series of trials for specific council processes.

The project is a key element of Aylesbury Vale’s five-year Connected Knowledge strategy, which aims to integrate voice recognition AI into its service delivery.

Hassell said it has been able to build the skills set needed within Alexa to align with its basic functions.

“For us it’s building on a lot of things we already have and we don’t have to create it all from scratch,” she told the conference. “All we’re doing is adding an extra channel on top of the functionality we already have in place.

“It has advantages over the phone in terms of when you can use it and there is no queuing. And lots of it is already there, they have already invested in it, so what we’re doing is the value-added piece, building the specialist skills the council needs.

“And it is building in social acceptability. A lot of people are getting and talking about them, so we don’t have to push them. They’ve already opted in and we just have to add the extra skill. And as the penetration goes up it should make it even easier.”

Building questions

The council’s functions within Alexa are being integrated with its website to provide information or guide users through transactions using a series of questions. Hassell said there are pros and cons to this: the information is already available, but website text is often written in a way that is unsuitable for reading out loud, and this can require some changes to formatting.

The users’ device connects to the service through the internet, can be tuned to recognise the voices of different users in a household and requires PIN codes for transactions.

Speaking to UKAuthority, Hassell said: “We’re talking to Amazon Web Services at the moment about certification and hoping to go live maybe next month. It depends on their process.

“We’ve identified specific processes and been working with AWS for about four weeks now. They will only allow us to launch with a service they accredit.

“I think we need to see how people react to it, then I hope we use that to help drive us to the next place. If people say ‘It is fantastic and we really want this service’, or ‘It doesn’t work for us’. We need to see.”

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