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Virtual assistant helps the City of Santana de Parnaíba communicate with residents

About Prefeitura de Santana de Parnaíba

Located some 40 kilometers from São Paulo state’s capital city, Santana de Parnaíba was founded in 1580 on the shores of the Tietê River during the tenure of Governor General Mem de Sá. With 209 buildings declared historic heritage in 1982 by the Council for the Defense of the Historical, Archeological, Artistic and Touristic Heritage (Condephaat), the city boasts one of São Paulo’s most important colonial-era architectural ensembles, with buildings dating back to the 17th century. According to Brazil’s Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE), the city had an estimated population of around 136,517 in 2018. Currently, the city has 8,500 municipal employees.

Industries: Government & Public Sector
Location: Brazil

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In just 49 days, the city’s IT Bureau created virtual assistant Anna using Google Cloud solutions, improving the response to citizen requests.

Results

  • Virtual assistant created in 49 days—from project to deployment.
  • 20K+ requests received so far
  • Handles an average of 117 requests per day, over 2.8K per month
  • 24-hour service for the population through the virtual assistant
  • Supports requests from 20+ city bureaus

Days with 400+ request peaks

With over 136,000 inhabitants, Santana de Parnaíba, a city located in the state of São Paulo, used to have lots of people coming to their municipal offices. This led Mayor Elvis Leonardo Cezar to present a challenge to the team of the city’s IT bureau (SMTI): finding the right technology to help the city make those processes more agile and efficient and also more convenient for the citizens.

This complex logistic and operational matter became very urgent at the beginning of the social-distancing period to fight against COVID-19. Santana de Parnaíba’s government needed to find a solution quickly to handle citizen requests without forcing them to go to its offices, which were partially or entirely shut down.

The SMTI team considered this challenge as an opportunity to put Santana de Parnaíba’s Science and Innovation Lab (Sp@rGovLab) to work. This open-innovation program seeks tech alternatives and experiments on projects in order to develop solutions to help improve the city’s management and the everyday life of its residents. Through Sp@rGovLab, SMTI launched a project to meet the government’s needs: virtual assistant Anna.

Named as a tribute to the city’s origins, Anna was developed using Google Cloud solutions in record time—49 days, including research, prototyping, development, and deployment—by a team of just six members. Endorsed by every bureau and the mayor himself, citizen usage expanded quickly.

Santana de Parnaíba’s public cloud debut

Anna involved not only launching Sp@rGovLab and SMTI’s first virtual assistant. It also marked the first time the team used public cloud tools for its projects. With its own data center and on its way to building a second one, SMTI has always relied on its own infrastructure to develop solutions. However, the project’s urgency led the team to look for external natural-language processing and machine learning tools.

In doing so, Rafael Marin Machado de Souza, head of Sp@rGovLab, conducted a research project to assess eight AI solutions and rank them according to four criteria: cost, ease of development, number of available outputs, and ease of deployment. Google Cloud’s Dialogflow obtained the highest overall score. The project also covered Cloud Run to host the interface on Google Cloud, and Cloud Functions and Firebase to integrate the city’s databases.

“Google Cloud’s team acknowledged how relevant this project was for the population from the get-go and provided us with all the support we needed masterfully. Thanks to this, we were able to deliver the best in technology to our inhabitants,” Sp@rGovLab’s leader explains.

Besides quickly developing the solution, SMTI implemented a joint process with the city’s communications bureau (SECOM) to feed Anna with information. The SECOM team collects questions for the assistant to answer along with other city bureaus, streamlining the language used in the answers, reviewing them, and sending them over to SMTI for final filtering, including the data in the system’s knowledge base and training the IA.

In order to make communications more agile between the 20+ city bureaus, Google Workspace tools were also adopted, which Santana de Parnaíba’s government already used. Resorting to shared documents, Gmail, Meet, and Hangouts for communications was very helpful, especially as remote work became the norm. “Google Workspace’s supporting tools were key to organizing workflows and sharing work materials. Without them, it would be significantly harder for us to deploy,” says Mario Luis Pereira, SMTI’s System Development Manager.

Launching Anna for the citizens

Project Anna was launched in late March 2020 with the initial goal of answering COVID-19-related questions from citizens. Within the first 15 days of operation alone, it received more than 4,000 requests, which ballooned to over 9,000 after 30 days. It was such a success that soon SMTI began getting requests from every city bureau through SECOM.

Nowadays, the assistant also answers citizen questions about topics such as tax services, new decrees, public works, and over 400 different topics—all with around-the-clock service and no need to visit offices.

Today, anyone can access Anna through the city’s site, app, and Service Portal, as well as via integrations with Google Assistant and Facebook. SMTI is also working on an integration with WhatsApp. The assistant handles an average of 117 requests per day—peaking over 400—and more than 2,800 a month. It has answered more than 20,000 requests to date and has the firm support and promotion of Mayor Elvis Leonardo Cezar.

“Available to residents in a practical, accessible way, Anna has proven an efficient solution for delivering digital services. The use of cutting-edge technology for social well-being is opening up new outlooks for public administration.”

Elvis Leonardo Cezar, Mayor, Santana de Parnaíba.

SMTI’s Chief, Leonidas Chaves de Oliveira Neto, thinks Anna plays a major role in the bureau’s goal to promote digital transformation in the city and its Smart City Project.

“We’re going through a time of disruption, where paradigm changes are both desirable and inevitable. We jumpstarted that process in the city by cutting red tape in public services with AI.”

Leonidas Chaves de Oliveira Neto, SMTI Chief, Santana de Parnaíba

New outlooks for technologic innovation in the city

Currently, the virtual assistant relies on a pool of default Q&A. It can also inform if a citizen is authorized by the city to request specific services. SMTI’s team is already working to help it do even more.

“We can see Anna fielding requests in a more active way in the future. Today she already communicates with our databases, and we want her to start handling tasks such as booking medical appointments, requesting vacancies in nurseries, reprinting real estate and terrain tax (IPTU) tickets and other services,” explains SMTI’s Chief.

Sp@rGovLab is already doing research to plan for other projects using AI for smart city management. And the experience of using public cloud solutions should continue. Lab’s head, Rafael Marin, cites, for example, the following: urban mobility projects with Google Maps to improve traffic, public security projects with Google Cloud’s Video AI tools to analyze public CCTV footage, and healthcare projects with Cloud Healthcare API to help with diagnosis.

“We hope to have a lot of support from initiatives such as Google Cloud, and we are excited to notice a genuine interest in enabling the pilot’s execution. When we created Anna, synergy was very good, and now our lab is full of ideas and capable of executing them.”

Mario Luis Pereira, Head of System Development, Santana de Parnaíba’s SMTI.

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Prefeitura de Santana de Parnaíba

Located some 40 kilometers from São Paulo state’s capital city, Santana de Parnaíba was founded in 1580 on the shores of the Tietê River during the tenure of Governor General Mem de Sá. With 209 buildings declared historic heritage in 1982 by the Council for the Defense of the Historical, Archeological, Artistic and Touristic Heritage (Condephaat), the city boasts one of São Paulo’s most important colonial-era architectural ensembles, with buildings dating back to the 17th century. According to Brazil’s Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE), the city had an estimated population of around 136,517 in 2018. Currently, the city has 8,500 municipal employees.

Industries: Government & Public Sector
Location: Brazil