Paradise to use AI bot to direct public requests

By Mark Squibb
October 13, 2023 Edition

The next time you report a pothole or piece of broken playground equipment to the Town of Paradise, there may very well be a bot that channels your request to the right department.

During last week’s public meeting, council unanimously approved a motion to contract 311 AI to provide an artificial intelligence (AI) service request system at a cost of $27,600 annually.

“This is a new company developing platforms to support municipal interactions with residents,” said councillor Elizabeth Laurie, who brought forward the motion at the behest of the administration committee. “They have designed products that use AI Chat technology and have developed a robust service request platform whereby residents can report a problem and follow it through to the resolution process.”

According to the 311 AI website, when a resident submits a service request through the app, the artificial intelligence will review the request, attach the appropriate information, and then send the request to an administration dashboard as ‘tickets.’ Administrators then assign the ‘tickets’ to the appropriate department.

Laurie said the company offered to waive the $25,000 implementation fee and offer a reduced monthly subscription of $2,000 per month. Once HST is factored in, the service will cost $27,600 annually.

The service request system is expected to be implemented next year.

Laurie noted that while the arrangement has been a long time coming, she believed it would be worth the wait.

“I think the residents are going to be really impressed with what our staff have come back to us with,” said Laurie. “311 AI is going to be really interesting and while it’s a little bit over my head, as to what it all means, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Laurie then suggested the Town could have some sort of contest and let school kids name the bot.

“The artificial intelligence entity, or whatever you want to call it, learns from all of our data, everything that we have in the system, and on our website, and so it’s going to be very interesting,” Said Mayor Dan Bobbett.

Councillor Deborah Quilty, meanwhile, said she was impressed with the company’s promise that residents would be able to ‘follow through’ a request and see it through to completion.

Council also unanimously approved a motion to contract Voyent Alert to provide a resident notification system at a cost of $9,890, HST included, per year, including the initial implementation.

Councillor Laurie noted that notices and public advisories are issued through the Town’s website and in The Shoreline, amongst other avenues, but the Town does not have a system to send notices directly to residents.

“This is a Canadian-based company which specializes in rapid dissemination of targeted information for both emergencies and day-to-day notifications,” said Laurie. “They have hundreds of municipal clients across the country, and many of those are here in Atlantic Canada and in Newfoundland and Labrador. They offer text, e-mail, and voice-to-landline notification options, and residents can select the categories that they want to receive notifications about.”

The system will be implemented before the end of the year.

Initially, staff had hoped for an app that could cover both bases, but in the end recommended that council contract two different suppliers.

Councillor Larry Vaters said while it would have been great to have both the notification system and the service request system on the one app, “sometimes two is better than one.”

Vaters said he had made inquiries about the security of the app and was glad to hear that any private information collected within either app will be stored in Canada, and not overseas.

“These two companies are based in Canada,” said Vaters. “These are essentially Canadian companies — homegrown talent, homegrown companies, right here in the country. So hopefully it all works out. And as it relates to 311 AI, as I understand, the bot will scour our website and will collect as much information as it can, in its artificial intelligence, and if there’s a question that comes in, the bot, hopefully, will be able to provide information initially that it has obtained from the site. And so hopefully this will be a good service.”

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