Photo Credit – Charles Briand
By Brian Cann, Regional Director, Eastern Canada
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform Canada’s public sector by empowering its employees and enabling new ways of delivering services. When used effectively, AI can elevate roles and create new jobs and functions. It can also inform better decision-making, improve policy and achieve greater impact using fewer resources. For the City of Laval, AI is transforming the city’s 311 non-emergency response system with a virtual agent that is expediting citizen-agent interactions and answering the more basic inquiries on its own.
As one of the largest cities in Quebec, Laval’s 311 operators respond to more than 250,000 requests annually, dealing with questions and complaints about non-emergency issues. Fielding these calls can be a sizeable undertaking and the manual recording of each call can sometimes be left incomplete.
The push to augment the system with AI began in 2019 and is part of the city’s digital transformation strategy that aims to deliver personalized services to Laval residents through cutting edge infrastructure initiatives. The introduction of the 311 virtual agent is positively impacting the citizen experience. By eliminating the clerical task of entering the request in the system, the virtual agent is reducing wait times. It is also allowing city employees to respond to complex requests sooner.
The solution is expected to automate 20,000 calls by the end of its first year of operation, allowing the city’s agents to focus on more elevated roles and functions. “As we rolled out the solution, we made a point to sit down and ask employees how it might help them better accomplish their most important work—those tasks that we will always need a person to take charge of,” says Patrick Taillon, IT Analyst and Innovation Strategist at Ville de Laval. “Nowadays, I believe they take pride in being some of the first people working for the City of Laval to utilize AI in this way.”
Integrating technology and fueling interoperability
With the city already using Microsoft 365 for multiple workloads, adopting Dynamics 365 and Azure AI allowed for seamless integration and has enabled high interoperability between environments. “With so much of our infrastructure already in the Microsoft cloud, developing a solution that uses capabilities in Azure AI is made much simpler,” says Taillon.
Taillon and his team worked with Microsoft’s valued partner, Gestisoft, to deploy Dynamics 365 and use its customer relationship management functionalities to create an improved database that tracks all the 311 requests. With this important data in-hand, Taillon can apply the AI solution, which incorporates Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Power Platform. “By generating reports in Power BI, we can begin to understand which calls our agents are fielding most frequently,” says Taillon. “Automating the way we provide that information, we can substantially improve the quality of the service we provide.”
Building on the successful results to-date, Laval is considering expanding the Azure AI–driven solution to more areas, including the emergency response 911 system. For this application, the virtual system would analyze texts or videos sent to 911 and rapidly contact an agent while providing as much context as possible. Laval foresees its virtual agents as a key part of its response network, especially in the event of a large-scale emergency.
The pace of digital transformation continues to accelerate and technology like AI and machine learning is helping to solve some of society’s biggest challenges. By embedding digital solutions into the core of services, public sector organizations like the City of Laval are unlocking creative new ways to deliver personalized services that meet the evolving demands and needs of citizens in real time.
To learn more about digital transformation in the public sector, visit http://microsoft.com/en-ca/sites/municipalities