Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other advanced applications have been revolutionizing customer experience and customer service within the private sector for a few years now. We’ve all seen conversational AI in action, with virtual assistants popping up in the corner of practically every Website that we navigate to.
These AI tools are spreading like wildfire in the private sector because they’re effective. They answer basic questions for customers and prospects so that staff members can focus on higher-value tasks. And that’s something that could be especially useful in the government, where most organizations are short on staff and resources, but still need to provide service and information to constituents that may be navigating convoluted government programs or application processes.
While the government may have fallen behind the private sector in the adoption of these AI solutions, that’s starting to change. Driven by the need to meet constituent requirements during the COVID pandemic, and desires to provide better service to citizens, AI solutions are becoming increasingly popular across the government. And a great example can be found in Arizona, being used by the Clerk of the Superior Court in Maricopa County.
Aaron Judy spearheaded the creation of CLEO, a conversational AI that appears when visitors enter the Website for the Clerk of the Superior Court in Maricopa County. He is also one of the panelists that will be speaking during November’s Red Hat Government Symposium.
We recently sat down with Aaron to discuss the creation of CLEO, why it was an important addition for the Clerk of the Superior Court in Maricopa County, and why similar AI solutions and other advanced applications are becoming so essential in the government today.
GovDevSecOpsHub (GDSOH): Can you tell our readers a bit about CLEO? What is it? Where did the concept of CLEO come from? And why is an AI like CLEO necessary for an organization like the Clerk of the Superior Court in Maricopa County today?
Aaron Judy: CLEO is one of our virtual personas, tasked with citizen-facing customer service. CLEO is an omni-channel conversational AI that is modeled as a reserved, bilingual female customer service representative. Under the hood, she is a pair of Watson Assistant agents, one English and one Spanish, with no translation services used.
Her name is an initialism of CLErk Of the Court.
The concept of conversational AI was first envisioned to decrease our interactive voice response (IVR) call volumes while increasing the quality of our customer experience. Her design is based on several principles but foremost that she be based on interoperable technologies that were not limited to a single channel, such as our website.
CLEO can respond to the same questions regardless of channel. She is connected to our website, SMS, and email via text-based chat with Facebook coming soon, voice telephony, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant via voice. Most, but not all, of our channels offer a human agent hand off should a customer have needs CLEO cannot address.
Customers are accustomed to well-orchestrated, natural language experiences when they interface with retail and financial organizations. Even though we aren’t competing for customers with other courts, we are held to those same commercial expectations. Omni-channel conversational AI is the foundation of that experience.
GDSOH: CLEO is just one of many AI tools and applications that we’re seeing implemented across the government as part of ongoing modernization and digital transformation initiatives. What technologies have opened the door to these advanced AI tools? What will they continue to grow and evolve into in the future?
Aaron Judy: Wrapping AI deployment and administration in automation and easy-to-use, point-and-click interfaces has greatly improved our ability to operationalize these technologies. The skillset required to work with these technologies changes from data science to learning new software that relates to their job. This allows subject matter experts to curate our conversational AI.
As a technologist, I tend to be technical, I speak in technical terms. SMEs understand the needs of the customer and the business better than I do. Allowing them to curate refines the customer experience much greater than I could have alone.
The easy-to-use AI tools are paired with interoperability through native integrations, serverless cloud functions, and connective tissue provided by such technologies as programmable telephony/SMS. These allow us to add channels to our omnichannel model as needed.
“For the taxpayer, the benefits are greater fiscal responsibility with their tax dollars, more timely processing of government requests, and enhancements to their customer experience when conducting business.” – Aaron Judy
I know robotic process automation (RPA) is huge right now, but the experience will limit the effectiveness of RPA. Not everyone is comfortable talking to an AI in chat to initiate a process. Some are, but for many, chatting to their teammates only recently replaced a walk to their space. For RPA to succeed, it will need to be nonobtrusive, meet the users where they work or be invisible, and configurable by the masses.
Digital experiences continue to evolve, we continue to digitize and double down, but that decreases the human element of the experience. To improve accessibility for all and thereby access to justice, we need to explore more means of communication while infusing those with human empathy.
We started exploring digital or virtual humans for their potential use in our setting. As concepts such as “The Metaverse” unfold, the .gov experience may have a presence there.
GDSOH: In mid-November, you’ll be joining a number of government and industry technology leaders on a panel entitled, “Doubling Down on Digitizing Government.” Why is the digital transformation of government important today? Why can and should government agencies be doubling down on digitization and modernization initiatives? What benefits exist for them? For the taxpayers?
Aaron Judy: Digital transformation is important because, in many ways, the government experience is late to meet commercially-set expectations. It is also likely late due to the “sink or swim” situation that COVID put all IT groups in.
Digital transformation builds a portfolio of capabilities that can be orchestrated into larger more complex experiences. Building capability increases your organization’s ability to pivot quickly when faced with change, aka “agility.”
“The Clerk’s office encourages everyone to treat security as a priority, take the responsibility for ensuring security in their work, share knowledge about security with partners, and identify areas in need of improvement.” – Aaron Judy
The obvious benefit to the organization is savings through operational efficiencies allowing everyone to focus on other things. These vary depending on the focus and scope of the organization of course.
For the taxpayer, the benefits are greater fiscal responsibility with their tax dollars, more timely processing of government requests, and enhancements to their customer experience when conducting business.
GDSOH: While digital transformation is making agencies more efficient and improving their operations, it’s also increasing their attack surface and cyber risk. How is the Maricopa County Clerk of the Superior Court working to ensure that new applications are not only effective, but secure?
Aaron Judy: A secure culture within the Clerk’s office is achieved through two-factor authentication, security audits, password expiration practices, and providing education to staff in areas of phishing, ransomware, and strong password creation.
The Clerk’s office encourages everyone to treat security as a priority, take the responsibility for ensuring security in their work, share knowledge about security with partners, and identify areas in need of improvement.
GDSOH: We often hear taking a DevSecOps approach to application development as a solution for both accelerating AppDev, and for increasing AppSec. Is DevSecOps something that’s being encouraged across Maricopa County and its technology vendors?
Maricopa County has embraced DevSecOps and is incorporating tools into the development lifecycle, such as, CheckMarx for identifying vulnerabilities early in the development stages.
“Digital experiences continue to evolve, we continue to digitize and double down, but that decreases the human element of the experience. To improve accessibility for all and thereby access to justice, we need to explore more means of communication while infusing those with human empathy.” – Aaron Judy
In addition, scheduled vulnerability checking is performed on an ongoing basis to identify any new vulnerabilities that may arise after development.
GDSOH: Your panel at the Red Hat Government Symposium will feature a number of incredibly talented and accomplished government technology leaders, such as yourself. You’ll be joined by speakers from the GSA and HHS for a discussion that’s being moderated by Red Hat’s Chief Technologist for NA Public Sector. That’s quite the line-up. What do you, Steve, Chaeny, and David plan to focus on during your session? What do you think attendees will learn from the discussion?
Aaron Judy: We plan to focus on many of the things you too have asked. We’ll touch on how digital services have changed over the last eighteen months. We’ll chat about new technologies, the human elements of transformation, the customer and employee experience, and how to bridge that skill divide.
I think attendees will come away with new ideas they themselves could leverage as they transform existing services and adopt new technologies.
For additional information and to register online for the Red Hat Government Symposium, click HERE.