The Department of Human Services has started looking at how it might tap into popular messaging platforms like WhatsApp to make reporting easier for Centrelink customers.
The department is progressing work to engage customers in ways other than by SMS - the primary channel currently used to communicate with customers of the federal government’s myGov online service platform.
“We send millions of SMS out of DHS on a yearly basis,” acting CIO Charles McHardie told the Technology in Government summit in Canberra today.
“If you’ve got correspondence in your myGov inbox, we’ll send you an SMS and tell you you’ve got correspondence.”
He said the same prompts were used to alert customers to report their income and change of circumstances to Centrelink.
But with customers increasingly using messaging apps instead of SMS, McHardie said the department needs to consider “life after SMS” and better respond to the needs of its users.
“We’re now looking at what an inordinate world could look like, with things like push notifications sitting around your applications, but intelligent push notification,” he said.
This would allow individuals to respond to questions about fortnightly reporting, for instance, without needing to log into online services.
The work broadly aligns with a number of virtual assistants that the department has introduced over the last year-and-a-half to answer general questions customers might have about student, trainee and family payments.
In the last week, the department has released a new look-and-feel version of its Express Plus mobile application for Centrelink and a new job seeker online claim, both of which have in-built virtual assistants.
McHardie said that the department's vision is to give customers the ability to undertake simple interactions in a “matter of seconds” in order to free up resources to deal with more complex matters.
“We’re heavily focused in some of the larger bot frameworks like some of the work we’ve done with Microsoft to date, to be able to reach out to some of the other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp,” he said.
“Because that’s where our customer base sits, and to be able to interact with them effectively we need to get onto those messaging platforms as well.”
But McHardie said there is a need to balance innovation like connecting with messaging platforms with “continuous improvement”.
“We’re heavily focused at the moment on making sure that we’re not only innovating by looking at what industry is up to and trying to keep up and indeed get ahead, but we’re also spending a lot of time making sure that we include everyone as we go,”he said.
“We look after some of the most vulnerable folks in society. Not everyone can afford the latest iPhone X, so a lot of our products need to be able work on some of the older devices, some of the older browsers, and still be able to do it in a secure manner.”
In order to understand how customers interact with its online and mobile apps, the department has deployed analytics solutions like IBM Tealeaf.
This allows the department to identify the pain-points that cause customers to “bust out of the digital channel and pick up the telephone”.