Digital Transformation in Government Insight #56:
Last year the state of Georgia in the US launched Ask Georgia.gov. The voice user interface uses Amazon’s Alexa to connect with the state government’s website through voice commands.
The Ask Georgia.gov initiative is a joint project between Digital Services Georgia and Acquia Labs. Digital Services Georgia is part of the Georgia Technology Authority, which is the government agency that manages IT infrastructure for the Georgian government.
The pilot was announced in a Digital Services Georgia blog in April 2017. The announcement detailed the project and also covered the why — why Digital Services Georgia was trialling voice integration. It talked about the use of a voice user interface (VUI) to appeal to the growing younger demographic and changing user expectations, and to increase accessibility for users with limited abilities.
In October 2017, Ask Georgia was launched with access to georgia.gov’s list of popular topics. These include things like information on child support, driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, name changes, marriage licenses and state holidays.
Users can access Ask Georgia.gov via an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or a tablet with Alexa.
The YouTube video of Ask Georgia.gov in action below shows how the system works. You can also read the full launch blog for more details. Or check out Acquia's write-up about the project and their involvement on their Acquia Ask Georgia.gov blog.
As mentioned above, some of the benefits of voice experience in government websites include:
Increased accessibility for users with a variety of needs
Keeping pace with society’s growing use of conversational user interfaces (their growth over the past three years is phenomenal)
Reducing barriers between government content and citizens
Content and VUIs
One of the interesting (but not surprising) discoveries noted by Digital Services Georgia is that the content needed to be rewritten to work as audio. “Usability testing made us realise that the content we had slimmed down to make web friendly was still too verbose for an auditory experience.” (Source: Digital Services Georgia launch blog)
This provides a nice throwback to the pioneering days of website content, when usability studies showed that content had to be reduced by 50% compared to print media. For voice, content needs to be even more streamlined.
Salsa Digital’s take
VUIs offer a great opportunity for Australian government departments at all levels — federal, state and local. Voice experience represents a disruptive technology with a strong uptake, which isn’t surprising given the massive technological improvements in the past year or two.
Voice is already on the radar here in Australia. For example, we recently took part in the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet’s (DPC) Voice Innovation Hack. The goal was to explore the potential of voice for citizens accessing government data (read our Voice Innovation Hack blog for more information).
We’re attending Acquia’s webinar on the Ask Georgia.gov technology later today, so look out for our detailed technical blog on this subject.
A note on terminology
There is some fluidity in the terminology used in this area. Often the broader term of conversational user interfaces (CUIs) is used to describe voice-activated features like Ask Georgia.gov. However, in some circles CUIs are broken into two distinct groups — chat features (text) and voice features (also called VUIs, voice assistants, voice integration and voice experience). Finally, the term chatbot is also often used to describe AI-driven chat and voice features (we blogged about chatbots in February this year).