Posted: Jul 27, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (July 27, 2018) – The State of North Dakota’s Information Technology team won a “hackfest” competition at an event sponsored by Microsoft in Minneapolis, MN. This is the second hackfest the state has won this year. North Dakota’s participants in the government-only event, Chad Gumeringer and Craig Felchle, won the competition by developing working models of two chat bots, an artificial intelligence (AI) feature in Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. 

In the first example, the ‘bot’ builds on ITD’s help desk functionality by allowing users to select their issue and priority level from pre-determined lists before automatically submitting a ‘ticket’ through the existing back-end system. An added benefit of the support bot would be integration with Skype to make it even easier to submit a help request ticket by eliminating the need to fill out a web form.

In the second example, the team used the same technology, called Q&A Maker, to create a mockup ‘bot’ for the Department of Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This bot links to existing web content, in this case the LIHEAP frequently asked questions page, and allows users to access information through word search. This simple Q&A bot can be ‘trained’ in a matter of minutes, is incredibly low cost and also integrates with a variety of other tools such as PowerBI, image and voice recognition technologies, and “Luis,” a natural language technology, to provide limitless opportunities for improved searchability, data presentation, and enhanced customer experience.

“Our team is always eager to find the best ways to use the latest technologies to support our agencies and our customers,” said North Dakota Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley. “This is another great example of leadership everywhere and harnessing technology to improve how we do business and serve citizens.”

“There are limitless opportunities to leverage these technologies across government services,” said Chad Gumeringer. “The ability to integrate this into any area where a citizen interacts with the state offers exciting possibilities. From voice-activated interactions, to a one-stop customer experience “hub” of statewide FAQs, this could create cost- and time-savings for state team members and customers.”

The team noted the return on investment for these kinds of technologies is tremendous, enabling seamless integration with current platforms like the Microsoft Office 365 security and productivity suite. Text-to-speech and speech-to-text as well as real-time transcription services are also available tools.

Photo caption: North Dakota CIO Shawn Riley (center) with hackfest participants Craig Felchle (L) and Chad Gumeringer.