MC-eGov Study on Multi-channel Delivery Strategies and Sustainable Business Models for Public Services addressing Socially Disadvantaged Groups
(January 2008 to February 2009)
ISAC – Multi-Channel Inclusive eGovernment using Natural Language Processing
Frank Wilson, Michael Blakemore
ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd
12-26 Albert Street
Birmingham B4 7UD
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.0 INTRODUCTION 1 2.0 Overview of the ISAC Case Study 2 2.1 Aims and Background 2 2.2 Intended outputs / results 3 2.3 Target groups and scenarios addressed 4 2.4 Main activities 4 2.5 Service Delivery Business Model 4 3.0 Inclusive eGovernment 5 3.1 Approach to Inclusive eGovernment 5 3.2 Exploiting MC and Technology for Inclusive eGovernment 5 3.3 ISAC in a Multi-channel Context 8 3.4 Policy area 8 4.0 Inclusion and Responsibility 9 4.1 Stakeholders 9 4.2 Responsibility for Delivery - Partnerships 9 5.0 Multi Channel Service Impact and Value 10 5.1 Key Service Results (Outputs and Impacts) 10 5.2 Evaluation and Perceived Public Value 10 6.0 Funding and Management 12 6.1 Funding Strategy 12 6.2 Management Strategy 12 6.3 Organisational change 12 7.0 Challenges and Successes 13 7.1 Key Achievements 13 7.2 Problems Solved and Lessons Learned 13 8.0 Future Perspectives 14
iSAC is the innovative “Servei d’Atencio Ciutadana” in Terrasa, Catalonia, Spain.
– the Interactive Citizen Information and Attention Service.
In Terrassa, a local innovation partnership have brought together all relevant service information to provide a common validated source to be used in a Multi-channel (MC) service architecture. An online application exploiting Natural Language Processing (NLP) is used as a flexible way for citizens to pose questions to which they require answers, so reducing burden on human service channels. This part of the multi-channel service network can in a large number of cases either answer questions directly, or pass the questioner to the appropriate source of expertise (for complex enquiries). Alternative service channels include face-to-face, telephone, and web. With the NLP system, citizens and small business can simply type any question and the system uses smart language processing, plus a Taxonomy and Municipal Vocabulary to select pre-defined answers, or to support citizens in finding answers. The system is a learning-system so is adaptive over time. The case study shows the drivers towards a MC strategy, and how this particular NLP technology can contribute to its achievement.
1ISAC received a “Best Practice” label from the ePractice initiative in 2007
Our local case study contact and information provider was:
Merce Rovira, University of Girona,
Ms Rovira runs the ISAC initiative and is the main contact for further information or collaboration.
The information contained here is held to reflect the situation at August 2008. Later readers should verify status in this fast moving area of development.
1 See http://www.epractice.eu/cases/2647
2.1 Aims and Background
The aim of the ISAC programme was to implement a pilot of multi-channel (MC) Inclusive eGovernment services exploiting useful technologies and human supported activities to provide a set of alternative channels for citizen access to information about services. The implementation happened in the city of Terrassa which has 202 thousand citizens, and so is of a manageable size for a pilot of this kind. The city hoped that by employing latest technologies they could find ways to improve citizen access, make services available to more people than before, and make service delivery more cost effective.
The specific objectives were to:
； Develop a new channel for accessing public information and services
； Improve transparency and trust in Public Authorities
； Launch a citizen-centred inclusive and learning eGov service
； Improve ease of access and length of access periods
； Include a system for continuous evaluation of services
； Explore and innovate new types of citizen services
； Share a standard approach with other public authorities
Terrassa city had a good reputation for operating a high quality Citizen Information and Attention Service (SAC) since 1992. However, it had become overloaded with around 400k calls per annum, with more than 70% of these referring to information that could be had via the city directory.
The local university was conducting research on eGovernment and new technologies, and recognised that “technology transfer” could be the key to opening new service channels to reduce administrative burden. This was also seen as an opportunity for engaging the local innovation network to exploit existing capacity in knowledge and skills.
An initial study determined that for the same cost as the current service, they could serve more people and do so within a 24/7 model. This study led to detailed planning, pilot testing, and subsequent launch of an active service that still provides public value and acceptable quality of service to citizens and business in Terrassa.
Table 1. Calls to SAC in 2005
Topic of Call %
Requests For Service Department Numbers (directory) 77.57
Municipal Procedures 4.98
Completing Municipal Procedures by Phone 4.80
Calls From Outside City (not citizen requests) 3.81
Public Service Directory 2.75
City Government / Providers Management 1.69
Service Times, Email Addresses, Websites (directory) 1.43
Commercial Activities 1.03
Traffic and Transport 0.63
Procedures in Public Agencies 0.51
Collection of Old Furniture 0.32
Calendar of Events 0.18
City Directions, Locations 0.11
Public Hiring Process 0.10
Requests for Service Lists 0.06
Reserving Internet Access Point (public) 0.04
The above data (from an early study) show that the majority of calls were not for specific information, but requests about “who to contact” to deal with service issues. Citizens do not always understand which department deals with which service, and so needed some kind of system / service that would better assist with either answering queries directly or routing to suitable expertise. This would mean exploring alternatives to the direct telephone channel, and finding ways to reduce burden on that service (by reducing routing queries). The initial study also exposed potential within latest technology developments for possibly automating routing and simple queries.
2.2 Intended outputs / results
The ISAC programme intended to:
； Reduce dependence on limited channels,
； Improve services overall through innovative technology,
； Offer more freedom and flexibility to citizens through multi-channel delivery,
； Improve service level and service period without increasing costs,
； Allow citizens to investigate service questions and receive relevant answers without
human intervention wherever possible.
2.3 Target groups and scenarios addressed
The target groups in this programme were all citizens and business in Terrassa. They aimed to implement a Multi-channel Inclusive eGovernment strategy whereby all citizens and business might have better access to service information at all times.
The city of 202 thousand inhabitants also contained 123,000 business units, housing mainly smaller businesses, and so provided employment for a larger group of citizens from the surrounding region.
In support of these citizens and their businesses, the city information service hosted 40,000 items of relevant service-related content in its databases.
2.4 Main activities
The main activities in ISAC have been:
； Forming a partnership to execute the project.
； Developing a strategy for service redesign and implementation.
； Integrating all relevant city info (public and private).
； Identifying suitable technologies and service strategies.
； Identifying service partners (who does what / support / special requirements).
； Designing pilots and methods of evaluation to test the concept and operational
These activities are illustrated in the body of this case study.
2.5 Service Delivery Business Model
The core business model of ISAC is quite simple. Integration of information reduces replication of effort in each service department or service area. By having a common strategy and support team the overall expenditure of effort is reduced.
The coupling of the standardised and centrally-managed information resources with the new 2technologies for semantic encoding and search, allow new delivery channels that were not previously possible. In addition, using a common source of information enables standard content and quality across channels.
Multiple channels gives access and usage 24/7 with selection of appropriate channel depending on time of day and context (e.g. at work, at home, on the move, etc.).
For the same cost level the ISAC strategy has enabled a much higher level of service with easier access by all citizens.
2 Semantic web overview at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_Web
3.1 Approach to Inclusive eGovernment
The general approach in ISAC is to address the whole of the citizen population, and to provide several channels so that people can select the most appropriate channel to suit the time of day, usage context and personal circumstances.
ISAC aims to provide an „inclusive‟ eGovernment approach where the needs of all are met
within an inclusive and common strategy.
People who cannot afford Internet access at home can use a public access point, or can phone, or use a face-to-face advisor.
People with disability can use access technologies as for any other service (e.g. accessible web browser, screen reader, deaf interpreter, etc.).
By providing a multi-channel solution, the municipality ensures that no citizen is left behind and can gain access to service information in the easiest possible, and most preferred, way.
All online content and interactions are provided via web sites operated by the municipality and which conform to local design standards taking account of needs for web accessibility by different classes of users.
The specific innovations in iSAC were rigorously tested in experiments and pilots supported by the University of Girona and its innovation network. This approach ensured optimal usability, operability, relevance and user satisfaction could be obtained within the design scope at that time.
3.2 Exploiting MC and Technology for Inclusive eGovernment
The core technology for ISAC involves the coupling of Natural Language Processing technology (easy access method) with a semantic network exploiting a detailed service vocabulary, frequently asked question (FAQ), a search engine based on relevant semantics.
A citizen can, via Internet, simply type a free form (natural language) question (see Figure 1 following). The question is passed to iSAC for analysis and selection of matching answers based on natural language semantic extraction, pattern matching (via semantics of government vocabulary), and identification of good matches (statistical model).
Figure 1. iSAC Operational Model
The semantic search engine, FAQs and vocabulary are refreshed on a 9 month cycle, and so the system is kept up to date. This involves coordination of relevant service departments and so relies on good collaboration between key service actors.
Any questions passed to the system which can not be easily handled drive a process of examination and understanding, leading to revised FAQs and updated semantics. This means that the overall system is a learning-system, and adjusts/adapts to user needs as they change.
More than 450,000 information objects (documents, forms etc.) are currently involved as targets, and the iSAC integrated information database is a common reference for all service channels addressing the same content (no replication, minimised errors).
The above model illustrates a citizen context whereby needs are met, and it should be borne in mind that part of his context is variability of situation, and variability in ability. A citizen may access form home or from work. They may be able to deal with computers or not. Some may even have a reluctance to use the phone. So the core technology, incorporating a common knowledge base, may be accessed via web directly, or via intermediaries using the telephone (agent can use the knowledge base to help with enquiries), or face to face (local desk officer can access from the desktop to help with problem solving).
； Public information & City information:
; Available services (public & private)
; Activities, calendar of events
; Learning opportunities‟ information & registration
; Public hiring
; Mobility & transport information
; NGOs, voluntary organizations
; Map & geographical information
； Connection to public services
； Support with procedures, models, forms (next year) ； Access to participation processes and activities (next year)
Answers to the citizen are „relevant‟ to the question and can include:
； A specially tailored text (by the system)
； City Government pretreated information (database objects) ； A web page with the specific content (URL / link) ； A set of maximum 3-5 possible very similar references ； A list of relevant services of a type (bank offices, health NGOs, old people‟s
Whenever iSAC cannot give a suitable answer there is always a human operator in the loop
and the system will offer other channels (where appropriate):
； e-mail message
； direct IP (internet telephony) call to call center (office hours) ； call back from the service office
； chat facility (only in call center office hours) ； WikiFAQ, to allow citizens help with their own community information (future)
3.3 ISAC in a Multi-channel Context
ISAC is the core element in a multi-channel strategy, and all channels rely on the existence of ISAC as the integrating technology. Hence, the whole project is referred to as ISAC.
Citizens / Business
The above channels use different technologies. Some use human intermediaries directly (e.g. face to face, phone, etc.), while some use human intermediaries indirectly (e.g. email). Human agents also maintain the database and conduct necessary analyses for extension of the semantic model. When a citizen asks for advice by phone, or face to face, the human agent has access to the iSAC database, and so the same sources are utilised for all service channels.
3.4 Policy area
National government information policy is localised in the Catalonia region by the Generalitat, and the Open Administration of Catalonia (AOC). AOC is an eGovernment initiative of Regional and Local Public Administrations, executing the Catalan Information Society Strategic Plan (Catalunya en Xarxa) 1999-2003, and according to eEurope 2005 initiative. Since that inception it has operated as a driver for modernizing all levels of eGovernment: Technical platforms, Digital Signature, Call Centre 24x7, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Workflow re-engineering, ePayment, eProcurement, Corporate Intranet and other actions. It is also an initiative for re-engineering internal procedures and improving the professional profile of civil servants.
The iSAC initiative benefits through the work of the DG Citizen Services who coordinate 3GENCAT (the regional eGovernment portal), and who provide a support package to all municipalities to help ensure Inclusive eGovernment in line with policy.
3 See GENCAT case study at http://www.mcegov.eu/case-studies.aspx