Conversational interfaces like chatbots and voice assistants have gained increased momentum in the omnichannel landscape due to their hands-free usability, implications for accessibility, and widening ubiquity. In partnership with Digital Services Georgia, Acquia Labs — the innovation arm of Acquia — built an ambitious digital experience for users of Amazon Echo: Ask GeorgiaGov, an Alexa skill built for citizens of Georgia.
Recently, Acquia Labs launched the Ask GeorgiaGov skill on the Alexa marketplace, meaning that anyone can now use their Amazon Echo device to learn how to renew their driver's license, how to enroll in pre-kindergarten programs, or how to find affordable housing simply by asking Alexa.
It's yet another striking example of how Georgia is reaching its citizens in novel ways.
This blog post describes some of the motivations behind Ask GeorgiaGov, how it works, and what it means for conversational experiences in general from the standpoint of user experience, editorial workflows, and content strategy. Our project kickoff post has more information about the underpinnings of the project.
Accessible content, reinvented
A grand transition is happening in governments at all levels — local, state, and federal — to engage citizens in ways that go beyond the impersonal phone call or agency visit. Ask GeorgiaGov continues Georgia's longstanding tradition of providing information in an accessible way for Georgians with disabilities while not compromising on pushing the forefront of emerging technologies.
"Connecting citizens with the government information they want in ways that work best for them has become a hallmark for Georgia. The GeorgiaGov Interactive team – now Digital Services Georgia – has been leading the way in embracing inclusive, citizen-centered technologies for more than a decade. With this exciting next step, we bypass the screen altogether and embrace conversational interfaces that allow users to simply ask for the information they need." — Calvin Rhodes, CIO, State of Georgia; executive director, Georgia Technology Authority
With the foundations built by Digital Services Georgia, the state government of Georgia has long been on the cutting edge of not just connecting citizens with information but also, more importantly, the accessibility of its information. In the early 2000s, Georgia pioneered a text-to-speech telephony service, which would enable any citizen to listen to a readout of website content. Today, screen readers are commonplace, and GeorgiaGov's web properties all adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
Along that same vein, we found that many users who rely on accessible technologies are also beginning to employ assistants like Amazon Echo — allowing them to avoid screen readers and other unwieldy systems.
Acquia Labs and Digital Services Georgia aimed to discover the right way to reach all Georgians with the information they need to succeed in their work with government. Our goal was to meet every user where they are, regardless of ability or socioeconomic status. By empowering citizens to take more control with Amazon Echo, we found that we could get the right information to them faster.