The National Disability Insurance Agency’s eMarketplace will give NDIS participants the option to interact with a virtual assistant to buy goods and services when deployed next year.
The Department of Human Services is planning to introduce the capability on the yet-to-be-released online trading platform to support user interactions and offer participants choice in how they interact with government.
The eMarketplace aims to improve access to goods and services for NDIS participants while giving providers an arena to showcase their services.
It is just one of several online offerings that will be supported by a virtual assistant using the department's new five-year standing offer agreement with Eeva AI, which is owned by New Zealand-based telecommunications company Hi-Tech Solutions.
Eeva AI’s virtual assistant platform – also known as FaceMe – is one of 12 platforms that currently sit behind the Nadia virtual assistant.
The department has been tinkering with Nadia for close to two years to help NDIA handle the 8000 calls it receives each week.
However, beyond helping the agency answer calls that would otherwise be fielded by call centre staff, NDIA’s COO Grant Tidswell told senate estimate last month that the agency still had to think through how it would use the bot.
"Our plan is to develop a channel strategy to say where this capability fits with all the other things that we are doing—our website, our portal improvements, our website improvements, social media platforms and the like," he said.
"So it has to be seen as part of that total picture, rather than just a thing sitting to the side."
A spokesperson told iTnews that while the standing offer will primarily be used to develop virtual assistant capability for NDIA, the project could also inform the development and implementation of DHS' digital services platform.
"The virtual assistant capability will support the experience of users when interacting with the eMarketplace platform as well as other online offerings," the spokesperson said.
That platform is the centrepiece of the department’s 2016-20 technology plan, which was quietly published in March, and aims to provide “a single digital location for customers, service providers and agencies to interact”.
Like the NDIA, the DHS platform will also consist of a marketplace to help it facilitate its role as the lead agency for citizen-to-government services.
DHS has already developed an internal virtual assistant – dubbed Roxy – to help its claims processing officers solve problems without having to call human experts for assistance.
It also recently introduced Sam the Centrelink virtual assistant to provide general information to customers with questions about family payments.