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Accelerating the information hunt in the public sector

A comprehensive information and knowledge management environment developed by MAP promises to reduce the data burden on civil servants and increase the efficiency of public administrations when it is launched commercially next year.

The IST programme-funded initiative ended in May 2004 although development is continuing under the European Commission's eTEN programme ahead of plans to market the system among Europe's local, regional and national public administrations. Going beyond traditional knowledge management techniques, the system provides front office support to civil servants dealing directly with the public, improving their working conditions on the one hand while, on the other, enhancing the ability of public offices to respond to the public at large in a timely and efficient fashion. "MAP can be employed virtually anywhere where civil servants have to interact with citizens face to face, over the telephone or over the Internet, whether it is to arrange building permits or to issue driving licences," explains Vanni Resta, the project manager at KPeople. "Anywhere where public offices have to deal with large amounts of different questions from a large number of people and have to provide a diverse array of information." MAP explained The MAP system is built around three core components, consisting of speech recognition software, a semantic analysis tool and a knowledge base. Combined the components result in a comprehensive platform for real-time data retrieval, allowing front office civil servants to input a citizen's question through a natural-language interface and obtain a structured response. "Someone is looking for information about a public service and asks a question either in person or over the phone to an operator in an information centre. The operator can repeat that same question into a microphone and the speech recognition software converts the natural language into text which can then be analysed semantically for its meaning by the system. Data related to the question is retrieved from the information sources, which could be the office database or intranet or the Internet, and presented to the operator," Resta says. "The output information is categorised so the operator can tell whether it is validated and reliable or whether it is a suggestion that may need further validation." According to the results of tests of the system, responses can be provided in as little as four seconds, considerably faster than the time-consuming and frequently manual processes that civil servants traditionally have to go through to respond to citizens' questions. Learning improves response times One of the most innovative aspects of the system, however, is its ability to learn from past queries and responses by logging previous user interactions so as to rapidly provide accurate answers to the most common queries. New information, and even continuously changing data, can be uploaded into the system by either front or back office personnel, adding increased flexibility to the normally rigid bureaucratic procedures of public offices and improving information exchange between civil servants in different departments and even in different locations. As a Web-based platform, MAP can also retrieve and provide data to civil servants on the move or out in the field over wireless devices such as mobile phones and PDAs. "High flexibility ensures public employees find it easier to locate the information when they need it. This obviously improves their efficiency and also reduces the workload on them," Resta explains. "The principal cause of stress among civil servants is the difficulties they face when trying to find the information they need to meet citizens' demands, which to date has often required that they search through databases, trawl the Internet or intranet or even run around the office trying to find paper documents and speak with colleagues." Enthusiastic responses from trials Public workers, the project manager notes, "were very enthusiastic about the system when it was implemented five in pilot trials in Italy and France. "Once they got over their initial suspicions that it would mean more work because they would have to learn how to use it, their opinions changed dramatically," Resta says. The trials, conducted in different contest such as social services, immigration and information offices in Livorno Municipality, Lazio Region and L'Aquila Prefecture in Italy and in Périgueux and Boulazac Municipality in France, proved the benefits of the system, especially in the busiest locations. "In Livorno for example we estimated that the increase in efficiency of the civil servants using the system was 30 per cent," Resta says. "In the two French municipalities we saw an increase in the satisfaction of the public about the responses they received and in Lazio the administration was so satisfied with the system that it is looking to employ it on a permanent basis." Under the eTEN project, which began in January and is due to end in June next year, the project partners are planning market-orientated validation trials in Italy, Poland, Sweden and Hungary. "In the Italian trial the system is due to be employed in the fire department of Padua for communications between fire fighters out in the field and operators, which is another possible application area for MAP and which will be the most challenging." The partners are planning to launch a commercial version of the system in the second half of 2006. Contact:,Mr Roberto Donnini,Siemens Informatica SpA,Via del Maggiolino, 163,I-00155 Rome,Italy,Tel: +39-06-22133477,Fax: +39-06-22133592,E-mail: Roberto.donnini@siemens.comPublished by the IST Results service which brings you online ICT news and analysis on the emerging results from the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research initiative. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.