West Virginia Launches Alexa Skill to Answer Questions About Government Services
A new Alexa skill is enabling West Virginians to get answers to questions about their government and its services. The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office skill is the latest of a growing wave of governments using voice apps to engage with citizens.
Alexa’s Country Road
The voice app is designed to answer a wide range of questions about West Virginia’s government and the services it offers. The accurately, if clumsily named West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office skill can tell users who current elected officials are, how to vote, and the steps for setting up businesses in the state. The skill isn’t comprehensive at the moment and focuses on the most common questions, and information people seek. There are plans to extend the voice app’s ability, however, including more interactive discussions and information pulled from a broader range of state databases.
“We strive to be a leader when it comes to using new technology to communicate with our constituents and make it easier to interact with our office,” West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said in a statement. “Our new custom Alexa skill enables you to get answers to the most commonly asked questions about our office and the services we provide wherever you are using the most natural user interface in the world: the voice. We’ve barely scratched the surface with voice assistant technology, and we have more exciting functionality in the works.”
Though West Virginia only has a skill for one state office, it’s easy to imagine that success will lead to other departments creating a voice app or augmenting the current one. And West Virginia is not alone in seeing the usefulness of building voice apps. Mesa, Arizona, recently launched an Alexa skill that can answer questions like West Virginia’s, for instance. Mesa’s skill also accesses the city calendar and offers a way for people to pay their utility bills through the voice app. The utility payment aspect is something Amazon is exploring directly, too, first in India and now worldwide with more than 700 utility companies.
There are also companies interested in connecting municipal data with voice assistants. Canadian startup Qwhery is working on a product called Q11 to do just that. On a larger scale, Estonia wants to set up a voice assistant for the whole country named for a magical assistant built of straw to connect citizens with government services. More cities, states, and even countries are likely to take their first steps in developing a voice app, making them just another facet of how they communicate with citizens.