• July 24, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Purple Forge Taps IBM Watson For City Customer Self-Service App

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Purple Forge, a Canadian startup that provides community engagement and self-service solutions to governments and private-sector organizations, has become an IBM Watson ecosystem partner. The result of that partnership is Purple Forge's Powered by IBM Watson solution that allows citizens to ask questions and receive evidence-based answers about city services.

The application leverages Watson's question-and-answer and natural language processing capabilities. Users can pose questions to the system through voice or text input via Web site, smartphone, or wearable devices, such as the Apple Watch, without having to wait to speak to a call center agent or for a reply to an email.

The City of Surrey in British Columbia, Canada, will be the first city to pilot the Purple Forge Powered by IBM Watson solution. The solution will be offered to city residents as part of the "My Surrey" mobile and Web apps that citizens currently use to obtain information for a wide range of government services, such as recycling schedules, job opportunities, and recreational activities.

John Craig, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing at Purple Forge, says those types of calls make up more than 65 percent of the phone calls that most city governments receive. Only about 15 percent of calls are to file complaints.

"Sixty-five percent of calls are for information. Citizens want answers to their questions, and [city government] Web sites are often very difficult to navigate," Craig says.

"With IBM Watson, we're able to quickly give the citizens the right answers to their questions," he states. "We're making use of all the public-facing data [the city] has available and making it easy to navigate."

This pilot is a component of the city's Smart Surrey Strategy, which seeks to build a city that uses technology and innovation to transform life and work. The City of Surrey was recently named a "Top Seven Intelligent Communities of 2015" by New York-based think tank, Intelligent Community Forum.

"Surrey is on the leading edge of innovation around customer apps," Craig says.

Craig also says that IBM's Watson technology was a natural fit for this type of program. IBM Watson represents a new era in computing in which systems are able to interact in natural language, analyze large volumes of unstructured data, respond to complex questions with evidence-based answers, and discover new actionable patterns and insights.

Bruce Hayne, chair of Surrey's Innovation and Investment Committee, agrees.

"IBM Watson's learning abilities are such that the technology builds its knowledge and improves as citizens use it, much in the same way humans learn," he said in a statement. "This pilot is expected to enhance customer experience by increasing the accessibility of services, while providing the city with insight into opportunities for improvement and reduction to service delivery costs."

The Purple Forge solution also benefits the city by providing additional insights into unmet customer service needs based on interactions with IBM Watson. For example, customer service staff will gain insights into questions that are not being answered, as well as the general themes of service requests and trends based on season. Another goal is to help cities like Surrey save money by decreasing the number of incoming calls to their contact centers.

"Our mobile-first SaaS solutions make advanced community engagement and self-service solutions powered by IBM Watson available for a wide range of organizations," said Brian Hurley, CEO and co-founder of Purple Forge, in a statement. "By integrating our proven SaaS solution with IBM Watson technology, our aim is to transform how public-facing organizations serve citizens and consumers."

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