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What makes a great public service bot?

25/05/18

Industry voice: Tim Gregson, chief technology officer for local and regional government at Microsoft UK, says citizen identity and cognitive systems are key ingredients in improving customer service

A bot is not a magic bullet, but as the technology behind it grows more sophisticated it has the potential to reduce the load on public sector contact centres and support a significant improvement in customer services.

The potential is increasing as bots, which are essentially conversational user interfaces, are integrated with cognitive systems that can understand the nuances of speech, languages and images, learn from the interactions and interface with back office knowledge bases.

A number of questions determine what makes a great bot. Does it easily solve the citizen’s problem with the minimum number of steps? Does it do so better and more easily than any of the alternatives? Does it run on the devices and platforms that people want to use? And is it intuitive to use?

Citizen Bot

Microsoft has risen to the challenge with the development of its Citizen Bot, a platform that enables public authorities to build easy-to-use bots that bring together the capabilities to answer the simple questions that are asked on a regular basis, and are compelling to the public.

It draws its power from working with two other Microsoft technologies. One is the citizen identity directory within Azure Active Directory B2C. This provides an identity hub that enables an organisation to authenticate a citizen’s identity through a range of providers, including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon; and it will incorporate the government’s own identity assurance service, GOV.UK Verify, as it is rolled out.

The system has the flexibility to require different levels of authentication for different enquiries. The least sensitive can make use of almost any platform; but others, such as applying for housing benefit, can require higher levels of assurance, such as that provided by Verify or the identity providers working with financial services.

The other technology is the Cognitive Services platform, which makes it possible to infuse bots with intelligent algorithms that can respond to images, text and speech, and are able to process natural language to evaluate sentiment and learn how to recognise what users want. It is even multilingual, with its ability to process different languages constantly improving as it learns from its interactions.

Providing answers

All this helps the system to interpret what a citizen wants from an enquiry, and then link into the organisation’s knowledge base to provide the answers. For example, if someone asks when their green bin is due to be emptied it can recognise their identity, relate this to their address and check its postcode against the management system’s database to provide an answer.

It is also compatible with a number of end points, such as authorities’ websites, mobile apps and even the Amazon Alexa platform, which provides people with the ability to interact with an authority through any preferred channel. There is also scope for it to be adapted to emerging technologies – a possibility is smart glasses – that are not yet widely used but could become important over the next few years.

Citizen Bot draws on public sector expertise, having been developed with a number of councils, and provides a repeatable solution that can be quickly integrated with an authority’s communications platforms. Some work is required to wire it into back end systems and to understand the scenarios the organisation wants to develop, but this can be typically be done within a few weeks, making it ready for use within a short timeframe.

This capability enables an authority to release the power of its existing knowledge base, take those simple transactions away from it contact centre, and free up its staff to deal with the more complex questions and requests. And it is set to get even better with continued evolution of the Microsoft Cognitive Services platform and the workings of bots.

For us this is just the start of things. It is real, in the market, and a way to accelerate an improvement in customer service.

Click here to access more information on CitizenBot in the Public Sector or watch the video below:

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