The queues at the counters of public institutions of Public Administration have surprisingly disappeared. But do not rejoice prematurely, it is not a success of digital transformation, but an effect of recent military ordinances and social distancing. The good news is that Emergency Ordinance no. 38/2020 introduces the obligation of public institutions to issue and receive electronically signed documents online, which opens new avenues for the entry of the technology of the new wave in the Romanian public administration.
Concerns for modernization have been constant in recent years, the most notable example being the Cluj Napoca City Hall, about which the press wrote since 2018 that it introduced the first virtual civil servant in Romania. Antonia (so was called the virtual clerk) but did not cope with the tasks and currently no longer appears on the institution’s website. However, this does not mean that chatbot systems are not suitable for interaction with citizens, but only that the project was either too avant-garde for the time or the implementation failed.
Undoubtedly, the use of chatbots for public administration is a solution, both from the perspective of freeing human resources from the burden of constant delivery of information to citizens, and reducing congestion at counters, a critical factor in the context of the current pandemic.
Instead of unanswered phones, chatbot systems are by far and perhaps a much cheaper way to provide standardized information to a wide audience. We don’t have to understand that a chatbot is better than a clerk, but only that some tasks (information, receiving requests, etc.) are too simple not to be automated with the help of technology.
Here are some examples of public administration chatbots:
- Chatbots and online registration
Most large cities already have a working online registry, but most of the time the accessible interface is obsolete. However, a chat window can be much more appropriate and flexible in its relationship with citizens, especially those of the post millenials generation. Many City Hall-City interactions already follow standardized scenarios and can be easily scripted and managed with a chatbot. Let’s hope that Antonia from Cluj Napoca will have descendants.
- Chatbots and document management systems-public administration
The public administration generates “tons” of documents, and finding the right information can be a chore for any official. Document management systems have complex indexing and search facilities but a chatbot can be much more efficient. It can extend searches to more types of data (structured and unstructured) and provide a simpler way to filter content. According to IDC, an office worker spends an average of 2.5 hours a day (30% of work time) searching for documents and information.
- Chatbot as an information point on the public agenda
At one time, information kiosks were very popular with the public administration. Their benefits are preserved, but unfortunately they have the disadvantage that people have to move. But the PC and the mobile phone are much more handy. Chatbots can provide up-to-date information about any social, economic or cultural event held by a City Hall. Citizens will no longer browse multiple sites, but will have access to a chat window in the entire public address book and details about the program, address book, location, registration, etc.
- Chatbots and the tourist circuit
Obviously, tourists are in dire need of information, and a chatbot system can do this anytime, anywhere, non-stop. Access to information about objectives, transport, loyalty cards, and by integrating with other services chatbots can offer virtual tours, booking and purchasing tickets, etc. Chatbots will not take the place of guides or locals willing to help lost tourists but they can make a city friendlier and implicitly more attractive for holiday budgets.
- Chatbots in the fight against anticovid19
They can’t take the place of doctors, but chatbots can deliver information faster and more securely. Since February, several states: Singapore, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, etc. have adopted chatbots for public administration. Their role was to inform the public about the evolution of the pandemic, including the World Health Organization. At the local level, a chatbot system can do more: referral to the hospital, connections to other government agencies, and so on.
Digitization is a constant goal for public authorities in Romania. And if in recent years investments have been directed mainly to IT infrastructure (hardware, applications, databases) it is expected that in the future, attention will be directed to other solutions. For example, chatbots for public administration, a technology that simplifies and streamlines the relationship with citizens. In a somewhat ironic way, the new coronavirus could be the best catalyst for digital transformation.