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Got Questions? Ask GeorgiaGov with Alexa

October 12, 2017

“Alexa, what’s the weather for this weekend?”

“Alexa, add eggs to my shopping list.”

“Alexa, how do I get a driver’s license in Georgia?”

We know that the ways you get information and complete daily tasks are changing with the times. We’ve gone from office visits and phone calls to internet searches and social media. Now, we’ve moved into conversational interfaces with Amazon’s Alexa.

In case you don’t know, Alexa is a voice-first digital assistant — similar to Siri, Cortana, and Google Now — offered by Amazon. A voice-first device is an active listening smart hardware where the interaction is based on voice, both input and output.

What Can I Ask GeorgiaGov?

If you’ve had questions about food stamps, child support, or business licenses in Georgia, there’s a good chance you’ve seen our Popular Topics pages. For several years now, these pages have answered Georgians’ top questions for state agencies. These are the topics people view most when they visit Georgia.gov. And now, we’ve given them an upgrade.

Access key information from Georgia’s state government without being tied to a computer or even a smartphone. Enable Ask GeorgiaGov on your Alexa device.

If you have an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Alexa on your tablet, you can ask several state related questions.

So what specifically is available with Ask GeorgiaGov? All the same information that we have in our list of Popular Topics. By directly connecting Alexa’s information to our website, we’ll best provide consistent, accurate answers no matter how you ask for them.

Topics include:

  • Food Stamps

  • Child Support

  • Business Licenses

  • Professional Licenses

  • Marriage Licenses

  • Name Changes

  • Driver’s Licenses

  • Vehicle Registration

  • State Holidays

And so much more!

 

It’s Already Online … Why Alexa Too?

The team behind the skill, Digital Services Georgia, wants your interaction with the state to be as easy as possible. To fulfill this mission, we knew we needed to think beyond just websites, and look to the future.

Preparing for Tomorrow

While exploring conversational interfaces for state information, we wondered about the adoption footprint for digital assistants. Digital assistants and conversational interfaces were still new in 2016, but 2017 seemed promising. In its 2017 Voice Report, Voice Labs predicted 24.5 million voice-first devices will ship this year — a drastic increase from previous years — boosting the total in circulation to 33 million. Seeing this surge of digital assistants and Amazon Alexa, we saw an opportunity to move with Georgians, not follow them.

A stacked bar chart, showing the number of voice-first devices in use by year. Between 2014 and 2017, we see a dramatic, exponential increase.
Source: http://voicelabs.co/2017/01/15/the-2017-voice-report/

Providing an Accessible Solution

Beyond the wide-spread, growing trend toward digital assistants, we saw this technology as a new way to reach people with a range of abilities.

After making over 80 state websites accessible, we learned that users with various disabilities often rely on digital assistants. By vocally respond to questions, assistants prevent many issues that users face when accessing a webpage with screen readers. Conversational interfaces are accessible by nature, providing another avenue for people with vision impairments or mobility limitations to interact.

While pursuing this futuristic approach, we’ve made sure to include all Georgians.

What Else Is New?

Once we started testing the Alexa skill, we realized that our information — while slimmed down and web-friendly — was still pretty wordy when you’re listening to it. Someone reading a page on their computer or phone can quickly skim through a page of content to find what they need, but you can’t do that when listening with technology like Alexa.

And what about links? If you’re on our website, you can just click and follow the links provided to find more information. But if you hear the information through your Amazon Echo, you need to be told exactly where to go or who to contact next.

So while technology experts got the engines running, our content managers fine-tuned what you’re here for — the information.

We made sure that our labelling — the page titles and FAQ questions — are clear and obvious, since these are the first things you’ll hear before committing to the rest of the information. We cut out whatever wasn’t needed so you’re not listening for several minutes for the answer to a simple question. And we added valuable information that was missing because it was linked to on another site.

What’s Next?

Building this Alexa Skill and taking an initial run through our Popular Topics content is just the start.

With the Ask GeorgiaGov skill, we’ve paved the way for others to offer a similar experience to their users. This project, though enabled just for Georgia.gov, is a perfect testing ground to explore what we can accomplish with conversational information. We hope to extend this to other agencies so that you, regardless of your abilities, can access information in your preferred way.

Just as smartphones changed interaction with websites, we hope to offer the same level of ease to non-screen devices, knocking down the barriers between you and your government.

Related Link

Beyond the Screen: Futurism Meets Inclusion 

Nikhil Deshpande

About the Author

As Chief Digital Officer for the State of Georgia, Nikhil Deshpande leads the Office of Digital Services Georgia under the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA).

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