MC-eGov Study on Multi-channel Delivery Strategies and Sustainable Business Models for Public Services addressing Socially Disadvantaged Groups

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MC
-
eGov

Study on Multi
-
channel Delivery
Strategies and Sustainable Business Models
for Public Services addressing Socially
Disadvantaged Groups


Contract 30
-
CE
-
0161843/00
-
50

(January 2008 to February 2009)



C
ASE STUDY



ISAC


Multi
-
Channel Inclusive eGo
vernment using
Natural Language Processing


Frank Wilson, Michael Blakemore


August 2008





ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd

Priestley House

12
-
26 Albert Street

Birmingham B4 7UD

UK






ii

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

Ser
vice 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 Perce
ived 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


1

1.0


INTRODUCTION


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 requ
ire 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
-
def
ined 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.




ISAC rec
eived a “Best Practice” label
1

from the ePractice initiative in 2007







Our local case study contact and information provider was:

Merce Rovira, University of Girona,

merce@isac.cat

mrovira@eia.udg.es


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

2.0

OVERVIEW OF THE ISAC

CASE STUDY

2.1

Aims and Ba
ckground

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 ab
out 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.


Objectives


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 approac
h 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 re
ferring 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 admini
strative 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 a
nd 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.


3


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 d
elivery,



Improve service level and service period without increasing costs,



Allow citizens to investigate service questions and receive relevant answers without
human intervention wherever possible.



4

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 h
osted 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

practicalities.

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 servic
e 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
technologies for semantic
2

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 d
ay 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


5

3.0

INCLUSIVE EGOVERNMEN
T


3.1

Approach to Inclusive eGovernment

The general appro
ach 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’ e
Government 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 acces
s 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 wi
thin 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 serv
ice
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 select
ion of matching answers
based on natural language semantic extraction, pattern matching (via semantics of
government vocabulary), and identification of good matches (statistical model).



6



Figure 1. iSAC Operational Model




The semantic search engine, FA
Qs 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 c
an 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 informati
on 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
e
ven 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).



7

iSAC includes:




Public information & City information:



Available services (public & private)



Activities, calendar of events



Learning opportunities’ information & registration



P
ublic 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)


Answer
s 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 simil
ar references



A list of relevant services of a type (bank offices, health NGOs, old people’s
residences, etc.).


Whenever iSAC cannot give a suitable answer there is always a human operator in the loop
and the
system will offer other channels (where approp
riate):




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)



8

3.3

ISA
C 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.




The above channe
ls 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 t
he 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 Service
s who coordinate
GENCAT
3

(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


9

4.0

INCLUSION AND RESPON
SIBILITY

4.1

Stakeholders

The stakeholders included information ho
lders from three levels of government (municipal,
regional and State). Each has a presence in the city and provides services of different kinds
(e.g. education, health, transport, social care, environment, etc.). These were supported by
the University of G
irona who are experts in different kinds of innovative technologies relevant
to citizen support.




The stakeholders also include citizens, represented via the citizen panel, and companies
who either deliver services for the publ
ic authority, or whose services are considered relevant
to the target service areas (e.g. health, environment, etc.).


4.2

Responsibility for Delivery
-

Partnerships

Responsibility was divided between three main partnership groups, including the Public
Authori
ty, the University, and Local Industry (innovation group). This ‘triple helix’ was also
supported by the AOC Consortium (Catalan Public Administration Consortium).




Uni Girona


NLP, Search Engine, Vocabulary, FAQ system, WIKI



Phone service outsourced to c
ommercial provider



Local companies provide technology and training



Local innovation cluster coordinated by University to generate ideas /
opportunities for transfer of innovation to eGovernment implementation.


Engagement of 3rd sector / NGO service provid
ers is via the municipal service departments
and also key actors in the regional social network whose collaborative links ensure local
information is up to date and relevant.


10

5.0

MULTI CHANNEL SERVIC
E IMPACT AND VALUE

5.1

Key Service Results (Outputs and Impacts)

The service was designed and delivered in three phases:


2006

Researching Open Source tools, and Question Answering software solutions.

Researching natural language user interface solutions.

Developing ‘semantics’ for the local and administrative ‘vocabula
ry’.

Integrating a common ‘citizen knowledge’ Database of relevant objects.

Translating to Catalan language.


2007

Developing the iSAC basic tools pack.

Running two test pilots
4
.

Developing a Spanish version.

Organising iSAC + AOC web indexing (integration
).


2008 (plan)

Introduce multimodality and multilingual access.

Introduce synthetic images (avatars).

Launch iSIAS (inter
-
administration service channels)

Launch a ‘wiki’

based FAQ system


5.2

Evaluation and Perceived Public Value

The ISAC programme has been

evaluated via numerous instruments and care has been
taken to clearly identify the perceived public value.


Evaluation Activities


Evaluation activities systematically look at:



number of requests,



percentage correct answers,



response times,



timeliness
of new information into the knowledge system,



user satisfaction,



employee and back office service staff perceptions,



number of FAQs answered via phone or face to face (walk in),



service cost.




4

See news section at
http://www.isac.cat/en/noticies.php


11

The current usage rate is equivalent to seventy
-
two thousan
d sessions per annum (72,000).
Each session can include more than one service question / service request, and so the
service level is estimated to be more than double that of the original service (~ 40k calls per
annum).


Citizens can give feedback at the

end of each session, and indeed are invited to do so. This
feedback is regularly analysed to identify problems, usage issues, and any trends indicating
needs for change of service strategy / content.


Analysis of citizen interactions allows detailed eval
uation of the service. It can be seen how
they communicate with government, what information types generate greatest demand, and
what demands appear at what times. The highest demands drive the greatest updates
(attention to what people want).


The approac
h of listening to citizens in this way is also a strategy for building trust and
enhancing participation in service and administration modernisation.


Perceived Public Value


Local citizens and business previously used telephone enquiry lines to find out w
ho to talk to,
then moved on to call other departments in a search for answers. Now they can use the
multi
-
channel approach whereby a common database ensures consistent and accurate
information that is well maintained and open to quality assurance.


Users
now find it easier to locate available services (public, private and NGO provided). They
also find it easier to locate calendars of local events and activities in the various local
institutions, as well as learning opportunities.


People can now more easil
y navigate through processes such as registrations, public hiring,
etc., and can find out more easily about NGOs, voluntary organisations, mobility and
transport information, as well as maps and geographical information.


All of the above are a critical pa
rt of the local service and information context, and are made
easier and more efficient (and effective) through the implementation of the new multi
-
channel
strategy. The fact that this is done at the same cost as the old service approach, while
satisfying
may more people, ad many more service/information requests, means that public
value is seen as very high both in financial terms, and in terms of the real delivery of
satisfaction.



12

6.0

FUNDING AND MANAGEME
NT

6.1

Funding Strategy

Regional funding was attracted via

the programme for Catalan Open Administration (AOC)
which is mandated by the Catalan Parliament, and which recognised the significant
opportunity for a test
-
bed illustrating the benefits of Multi
-
channel Inclusive eGovernment and
as a learning exercise fo
r other Catalan cities.


Funding figures in Euro are shown below:

2005 (Research and Preparation Phase)

20k


CIDEM (Catalan Govt. Support for SMEs)

50k
-

University of Girona

2006 (Development Phase)

150k


AOC Consortium


35k
-

City of Terrassa


60k
-

University of Girona

2007 (Pilot Phase)

89k


AOC Consortium

25k
-

City of Terrassa

60k
-

University of Girona

2008 (Deployment, Extension and Enrichment Phase)

1.3M (app. To Spanish Government)

0.5M (app. To AOC Consortium)

6.2

Management Strategy

The ongoin
g operation, support and review is organised by the “triple helix” mentioned
earlier. The University, Local Industry and Municipality operate an innovation network to
maintain focus on opportunities for improvement of service through technology exploitatio
n.

Technology transfer, education and support for deployment are provided in that context.

The active service is then operated by the municipality as part of its normal practices.

6.3

Organisational change

The main organisation change that took place was the i
ntensified collaboration between
service departments, assisted by the partnership developing and launching ISAC. Service
responsibility remains with specialist departments, but information ownership and information
management are made more collaborative an
d collective (e.g. common database).


The primary service transformation is the move from a single channel / dual channel
approach, towards a completely multi
-
channel approach. Each specialist service department
now save significant time because informatio
n seeking and provision are concentrated within
the ISAC
-
managed MC scenario. There are fewer instances of people spending a lot of time
on the phone because ISAC alleviates a significant part of that burden. Consequently, staff
spend more time on high val
ue tasks rather than ‘simple’ information provision.


13

7.0

CHALLENGES AND SUCCE
SSES


7.1

Key Achievements

Despite the very significant challenge to integrate service information from a wide variety of
services (horizontal problem), and despite services and informat
ion also being delivered by
different levels of government (municipal, regional, State


vertical problem), the ISAC
programme has delivered a working service. ISAC facilitates access to information about
local services using 8 channels, and this means the

citizens have flexible choice of access
channel 24/7.


7.2

Problems Solved and Lessons Learned

Re
-
engineering work processes was a major problem area. Whereas each department had
their own historic approach to gathering, verifying and storing information for

use in service
provision, they now have to contribute to a common pool of information held in a common
database. Not only did they have to deal with ensuring everything is available digitally, but
they all had to agree that to reduce replication, each dep
artment was solely responsible for
its own service
-
related information.


ISAC has proven to be an information integrator for Public Administration.


Building a user group took significant time and effort, including engagement with service
departments, inf
ormation holders, and formation of the citizen panel. The citizen panel were
especially useful because, as well as participating in presentations, workshops,
demonstrations and tests of the pilot system, they also provided a single focus to all service
dep
artments


they are the customers.


The enthusiasm for sharing tools, ideas, problems and solutions has grown steadily
throughout he programme of work and will in future be capitalised upon as a living lab or
similar conjoint activity.


Information is not
structured or organised in the same way in every department or service
agency, and so there was an ongoing problem to find and encode relevant information, and
then to adapt the vocabulary.


The programme was then faced with a further problem of how to va
lidate and standardise
information. This was achieved as a specific design solution but the exercise has shown a
need to develop a unique ‘taxonomy’ for citizen services, and this will be made part of future
work.



14

8.0

FUTURE PERSPECTIVES


The ISAC programme h
as shown how to exploit specialist technologies (NLP, semantic
encoding and semantic search) as a way to provide a single common information resource
that will enable consistent content and quality across a wide set of service channels.


The multi
-
channel

strategy in Terrassa could not have been achieved without the innovative
use of technology to support service objectives and service operational strategies, and it has
exposed additional technical challenges such as the need for a usable taxonomy (mention
ed
previously).


As extension of the successful work described here, further planned pilots will in involve 5
more Catalan cities
5

as beneficiaries of the collaborative and open source approach of ISAC.


SMS delivery of service information will be added
as a new channel / service component,
and will involve both SMS on demand, and planned (personalised) service information feeds.


The general approach of ISAC will be moved towards Web 2.0, and will exploit the social
software technologies for greater citi
zen involvement. For example, ‘wiki’ as an information
repository and a strategy for citizen involvement (participation), and contribution of own
information and information from NGOs and citizen organisations of relevance to the
concepts on collaborative
social support embodied in ISAC.


Personalise services are under consideration, especially using electronic identity strategies
(eID) to allow private information spaces to be created and managed (e.g. myServices,
myInfo).


ISAC may also be moved towards a

more Google
-
like Question
-
Answering system so as to
allow it to be embedded in multiple web sites and user interfaces (e.g. as a web service for
use by others).


Another future stage of the programme will learn from the experience of providing citizen
inf
ormation about public services using ISAC, and will move towards supporting tourism
using similar technologies and strategies. This transfer to a new sector may also include new
ways of funding the core innovation partnership for wider social benefit.


Fin
ding partners to share the research burden and to benefit from shared experience and
innovation is a critical issue for future development of ISAC and is being addressed by the
local innovation network.





5

See 2007 news announcement at
http://www.isac.cat/en/noticies.php?news
=1