Alexa and her corresponding Amazon devices are best known for streamlining tasks in our personal lives. Things such as checking news briefings or weather forecasts and adding items to a to-do list are made easier by this handy digital assistant. Although her most common applications involve mundane daily tasks, Alexa can actually be a powerful tool for local governments. Several public municipalities have discovered new ways Alexa can be of assistance in city and state management.
Here are some of the creative ways local municipalities around the globe use Alexa to keep their constituents happy.
1. Providing updates on road conditions
Voice-guided navigation apps are instrumental in helping users avoid wrong turns and heavy traffic delays. This is why government officials from the Isle of Man, a destination on the Irish Sea between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, offer an Alexa skill that provides essential traffic information.
After enabling the skill and saying “Alexa, open Manx Travel,” users can ask Alexa for updates about road closures or ask her to read road signs located around the island. Developers plan to add features that provide flight information as well.
This Alexa skill lets people get the insights they need without looking at or even touching their phones. The skill’s abilities also complement how consumers typically prefer to use their phones.
A survey by J.D. Power and Associates found almost a third of respondents with in-car navigation systems depended on them for less than two weeks before switching to their phones or other portable devices. In addition to this, more than half of the survey respondents never used the built-in systems and preferred other methods from the get-go.
2. Promoting local events
Los Angeles offers the LA City skill to help residents and visitors find out what’s going on around town. Users can access calendars containing government events, including city council meetings. The skill also responds to naturally worded questions. As such, people can avoid making phone calls to city officials and retrieve information directly from Alexa instead.
Officials say the Los Angeles Alexa skill will eventually let residents report problems in the city.
3. Facilitating local necessities
Taking back a library book to avoid late fees and abiding by lawn-watering regulations are two things many residents in cities around the world regularly do. Before carrying out those actions, they usually need to do a little research to find out when the library is open or if there are water usage restrictions in place. Residents of University Park, Texas now have the luxury of getting those details without digging through the city website.
Texas officials created the Community Connect skill with the help of Imaginuity, a Dallas marketing firm. Local officials are also eager to expand the skill’s capabilities and will add options to pay utility bills this year. Officials also say there is potential for the skill to help users take care of a parking ticket debt.
The University Park system already offers traffic and news information, so government officials who are interested in expanding Alexa’s skill set might look there for examples of what’s possible.
4. Improving access to government information
Government websites don’t always have intuitive layouts, and that problem often makes people avoid visiting them altogether. During a round of site updates, government officials in Georgia noticed many visually impaired visitors used screen readers to access the content. This got them thinking about how their general pool of site users might benefit from audio-based assistance. The state eventually launched the Ask GeorgiaGov skill, which helps users find answers to frequently asked questions.
Representatives turned their attention to a list of the most popular queries related to the Georgia government as they created the skill’s capabilities. Users get a few subject options, then use voice cues to select the one that best fits their query. The goal is for the skill is to answer user questions in as few steps as possible.
Studies about self-service portals indicate these offerings can be massive cost-cutters if they’re well-designed. For example, statistics associated with an industrial supplier found if one of every 12 customers self-diagnosed their technical problems instead of immediately calling a customer service number, the firm would save $10 million in maintenance costs over approximately 18 months.
5. Coaching the next generation of drivers
In Utah, the local government rolled out an initiative that links Alexa to the written practice exam for drivers. Users can respond directly to the questions the assistant poses to engage in an interactive learning process.
Statistics indicate that of Utah’s approximately 3 million residents, 37,000 new applicants attempt to get driver’s licenses each year. The state discovered that a 5 percent increase in the passing rate for driving tests would prevent the government from administering 1,850 second-attempt exams annually. Therefore, Utah’s officials anticipate significant savings as a result of fewer failed tests and fewer instructors needed to give in-person reviews to students. Here’s hoping Alexa can help!
A Gartner survey predicts there will be about 7 billion smart devices in use by 2020. The study also mentions most will have touch-free functionality or only require limited hand-associated input. Those statistics make it clear why voice-powered assistants are the way of the future.
Although people may not think of Alexa as a technology ripe for municipal use, these pioneering institutions demonstrate the digital assistant has promise as an honorary government employee. As more cities experiment with using Alexa, the results should continue to change the way people live, work, and find information.
Kayla Matthews is senior writer for MakeUseOf. Her work has also appeared on Vice, The Next Web, The Week, and TechnoBuffalo.