Chatbots are becoming ever more prevalent, from banking bots that allow people to report a missing bank card and order a new one, to bots that help you book a taxi, or even order a pizza. And the public sector is quickly following suit.
The issue of how such tech can benefit the public sector was the subject of a Capita Software Services workshop held as part of Digital Leaders Week (19-23 June).
Representatives from a wide range of public sector organisations joined the workshop, held at Capita’s Gresham Street office in London and facilitated by Stewart Davison, head of business development for housing, and Dave Kearns, technical solutions manager for One Digital.
The session discussed chatbots and headless user interfaces, what is meant by these terms and what kinds of solutions they encompass.
Chatbots can help support individuals who are digitally reluctant, and whose current preferred method of contact is still to use a council or social housing organisation contact centre. To offer a real-time and authentic feeling customer service experience, they have the ability to simulate human conversations. Someone using a chatbot simply types what they want in the messenger app and the bot brings it to them, talking to them as if it were a real person.
Headless interfaces involve software capable of running on a device without the need for a graphical user interface. The most common examples in recent times have been Apple’s Siri, Windows Cortana, Google’s Assistant Home and Amazon’s Alexa.
Specifically looking at the public sector, the session explored the potential this innovative technology offers organisations in transforming customer services and supporting digital initiatives via real examples and working projects, giving fuel for discussion and tangible food for thought for all attendees. Delegates were given a live demonstration of the potential of the tech to transform public sector services, including solutions built by Capita using chatbots or voice controlled interfaces to enquire about basic services such as refuse bin collections, or when your next housing association payment is due.
From the outset of the workshop Stewart emphasised the fact that both chatbots and headless user interfaces are still in the “emergence” stage within the public sector. While this tech is becoming increasingly mainstream in the daily lives of many people - Gartner has predicted that by 2020, 30% of all internet searches will be done by headless user interfaces - there remain a number of obstacles to overcome before it starts to have a real impact on public sector operations.
Issues raised by delegates included concerns over privacy of personal data and the ability to prove how the initial cost of tech can result in tangible benefits. While Stewart and Dave recognised the fact that there are some challenges remaining to be resolved, they urged organisations to be part of the conversation from the outset.
Stewart added: “Now is the time for your organisations to recognise that, if they are committed to digital transformation to better meet the needs of their customers, they should be on the frontier of recognising this rapidly evolving space and meeting the needs of the increasingly tech-savvy public whom they serve.”
Among the workshop delegates was Simon Penaluna, assistant director of IT, Peaks and Plains Housing Trust.
“I really enjoyed the session,” he explained. “It was refreshing how the people who attended were from different organisations, so we could discuss strategies and possible benefits for headless tech and chatbots around a different customer base and identify different obstacles that could prevent or limit its use.
“The group discussions brought to light a range of issues that I think will help Capita to develop solutions in the future. I am excited to see where this might lead.”