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For California businesses, there’s an “always open” sign at the Secretary of State’s Office. It comes in the form of a new online search assistant called Eureka, which answers commonly asked questions, around the clock.

“Eureka is our chatbot,” said Betsy Bogart, chief of the Business Programs Division. “Using artificial intelligence, it is an easy way for our customers to get information about business entities and trademarks.”

With more than 500,000 customers asking questions on those topics in 2018, the smart search assistant is helping users navigate the Secretary of State’s website to quickly and easily obtain the information they need. It’s also part of Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s Digital Initiative to modernize and digitize the agency and make it easier to do business in California.

“The goal is to have multiple avenues where customers—business owners, entrepreneurs, professionals—can get information related to business entities and trademarks online, 24/7,” Bogart added.

Powered by Microsoft Azure, artificial intelligence and Cognitive Services Bot Framework, Eureka was launched in a matter of days, said CIO Rita Gass and has been honored with:

The innovative chatbot enables customers to ask questions, such as “How do I get a copy of a filed document?” and access the most relevant, useful information. Since launch, Eureka has answered more than 77,000 inquiries.

“As Eureka is asked questions, Eureka gets smarter each time,” Bogart explained. “The Microsoft tool makes it very easy for our staff to help Eureka get smarter as we go.”

Gass noted that Eureka is part of the Secretary of State’s Office commitment to modernize and create efficiencies when providing citizen services, adding the organization is the first state-level department or agency to use AI and the Bot Framework. The chatbot’s automated responses to routine queries about business registration help:

  • Shorten time-to-information for the public seeking answers.
  • Increase staff productivity by allowing them to focus on more complex queries instead of manually answering routine questions.
  • Reduce time to develop and roll out new digital tools and services to fulfill its responsibilities to citizens.

With Eureka fully deployed, handling many routine requests and fulfilling the Secretary of State’s Office biggest challenge of quickly and securely supporting customer information requirements, the staff is now looking into expanding the chatbot to accommodate more languages and offer archival and elections information.

“Instead of customers having to go the old-school route, they actually can just use the resources available to them at home and get the information faster,” said Shannon Delgado, manager, Business Programs Division. “Developing Eureka was a very positive experience, knowing that Eureka would help make it easier to do business in California.

“Without having an IT background, I found the Microsoft QnA Maker very easy to use, with minimal training,” Delgado continued. She explained that Eureka was selected as the name because it’s part of California’s state motto and was used during the historic gold rush to mean, “I have found it.” “So, our hope is that customers will use Eureka and find the answer they are seeking.”

You can find out more about Eureka in this short video and gain insights into the future of AI technology in government here.