Information Systems Technology, Communication and Media
June 9, 2020
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, VA — Today, Chesterfield County announced the launch of ChesterBot, an automated question and answer-style chatbot designed to assist visitors of the county’s Chesterfield.gov website to locate online resources across a variety of departments and services.
ChesterBot may be accessed via a button on every county webpage. For desktop users, the button is located on the bottom-right corner of the screen, while mobile users can find the button underneath the county search bar at the top of their screen.
According to Chesterfield eGovernment Services Manager Nicole Maillet, the chatbot will serve as a supplemental tool for Chesterfield County to use to connect with citizens.
“Like the website, ChesterBot is available 24/7 and provides improvements for quickly obtaining targeted, simple information,” said Maillet. “The chatbot can respond to a number of people simultaneously and, since many customers have similar questions, save employee resources for more personalized customer responses.”
ChesterBot was initially conceptualized as a guide for the substantial amount of information available on the county’s COVID-19 resources webpage, County Response to COVID-19. In March, representatives from Microsoft approached Chesterfield’s Information Systems Technology (IST) Department with a new QnA Maker chatbot technology being deployed by the state of Missouri.
After acquiring the technology, Chesterfield’s IST development team quickly created a working prototype capable of leveraging information on the COVID-19 resources webpage to generate a set of automated questions and answers. The team soon realized the application’s broader potential.
“There is a plethora of constantly-evolving COVID-19 data available to the public, and the new ChesterBot can help direct citizens to established guidance by health experts,” said Enterprise Architecture Manager Nancy Tickle. “However, once we engaged with our Communications and Media Department and eGovernment team, we realized there was more to implement for our citizens than just a coronavirus-response chatbot.”
The application is most effective when users search with keywords rather than full questions or scenarios, and it can be deployed, for example, to find more information about tax payment options, applying for county permits and much more.
“The chatbot’s purpose is to provide guidance for a wide range of Chesterfield-specific service information,” said Tickle.
The county plans to continue growing ChesterBot’s knowledge base, with the goal of developing the application to provide access to service and resource data available throughout the Chesterfield.gov website.
Doing so, however, will rely on data analysis of the application’s usage by visitors to determine which keywords, resources and services require continued development. As more queries are entered into ChesterBot, the development team will be able to create an even more optimized, expansive product.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, ChesterBot is expected to augment the work of Chesterfield’s Virtual Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which is responsible for managing the county’s public response to the health crisis.
Steven Herring, emergency management public outreach coordinator, said a main goal of the Emergency Operations Center Call Center is to provide citizens access to up-to-date information that permits them to make informed decisions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The new chatbot not only gives Chesterfield citizens access to the right information, but it allows them to find that information faster and easier, providing them with quicker peace of mind and saving them time,” said Herring.
Herring urges citizens with COVID-19-related questions beyond the capabilities of the chatbot to call the county’s EOC at 804-751-2EOC (804-751-2362).
To use ChesterBot, visit any page on the Chesterfield County website, www.chesterfield.gov.
To learn more about ChesterBot, visit www.chesterfield.gov/ChesterBot.
For regularly-updated information about the county’s response to COVID-19, please visit www.chesterfield.gov/coronavirus.
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