City of San Jose ensures critical services reach community using AI translation
Chief Technology Officer, City of San José
SJ 311 Products-Projects Manager, City of San José
San José is one of the most diverse U.S. cities, with residents speaking more than 100 languages. Several years ago, we set out to improve city community interactions through more equitable service management and delivery. This demanded a new approach to automating the intake of requests from a majority population whose first language is not English.
We first created the 311 portal and app, which was an important step as we effectively separated resident service requests from emergencies. The way we describe it to our citizens, you call 311 for a burning question, and 911 for a burning building. In the last fiscal year, San José 311 received nearly 210,000 contacts by phone and an additional 211,000 service requests through the SJ 311 app.
Through the portal and app, we gave citizens an omnichannel experience enabling them to interact with the city to request improvements, access useful information, and get emergency help when they need it.
In order to truly serve our diverse communities, we recognized language translation services would be required to offer truly equitable services to everyone. That’s when we started working closely with SpringML, Google Cloud, and other partners with involvement from our Mayor and City CIO.
Building public services with community engagement in mind
When we first rolled out the My San José website and mobile app, we used an out-of-the-box translation service that ended up not working. It had poor accuracy and did not meet our needs to provide all citizens with coherent services. After looking at many other options, we decided to partner with SpringML and Google Cloud to leverage the AutoML Translation with other technologies such as our virtual agent.
SpringML was selected through an open RFP process, and helped us to build and optimize our integrations, interfaces, and more between several systems, making the app and website more intuitive to manage. SpringML delivered the product we needed on time and up to specifications, and additional value came from the training sessions they provided to our team. This enabled us to understand everything we could do with AutoML and opened the door to other enhancements such as simplifying the vernacular used with our residents, making government access easier to navigate regardless of natural language spoken.
After establishing the My San José app’s translation capabilities using AutoML, SpringML also helped us incorporate Dialogflow virtual agents. Dialogflow also positions us to make modifications with our own staffing practices - something that has become increasingly important amid the frequent changes in service levels from COVID-19 response in the past year.
Responding to community needs
With the app up-and-running, our next step was to bring in community members to help with testing, improvements, and more. We wanted the app and the website to not just be something we provided to the community, but rather something they helped us build so they would readily adopt it.
Thanks to the greater accuracy of translation supported by Google Cloud services, we were able to leverage the expertise of a small pool of community members to evaluate translations. AutoML Translation and Glossary proved to be a powerful combination that pushed us closer to our goals.
Our primary targets were Spanish and Vietnamese translations. We are now seeing 90 percent accuracy in automated Spanish translations while Vietnamese translations continue to improve. We continue to work to simplify the language used in these services, which makes a big difference in terms of ensuring optimal language accessibility.
This work includes best serving our community members who primarily use phones to get in touch with us through 311 services. Using Google Cloud Contact Center AI, we have been able to effectively manage the calls we receive 24 x 7 and communicate with residents who speak Spanish as well as English. No matter which channel one of our residents choose to use to reach out, we can serve them efficiently.
A well-timed release
We’re proud of the work we’ve done. We’ve made many government services available to our community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — accessible through many channels. Regardless of a person’s native language, the consistency of experiences enjoyed by everyone is improving every day thanks to AI. We’re also actively incorporating more language translation capabilities to better serve more people.
While we began this process several years ago, the recent integration of machine learning language translation with our customer relationship management system in late 2020 was very well-timed because we were able to incorporate this into our COVID-19 pandemic response.
We’re also beginning to work with other municipalities across the U.S. to share some of the lessons we’ve learned and success we’ve seen in hopes of furthering more equitable citizen services far beyond our City limits.
We are excited to continue working with SpringML, Google Cloud, and other partners to improve our city and the equity and quality of services that our residents enjoy.
Learn more about how you can work with a Google Cloud Partner here.