When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached a Canadian province, the government’s 8-1-1 helpline saw a spike in calls, creating long wait times for constituents to get advice.

In discussing how to manage the call volume, the idea was to develop a digital assistant to triage questions, direct callers to the right services and answer pressing questions in a matter of seconds.

In an agile, human-centered design and development sprint, the team of government and CGI experts developed a digital agent MVP in just 7 days using a public cloud-native platform—Google Dialogflow on Google Cloud Platform. They also used natural language processing to refine the digital assistant’s ability to understand questions and respond appropriately.

The digitization, rapid migration and staging of critical information has allowed the digital assistant to field hundreds of thousands of data requests, providing immediate responses to inquiries. In the early critical stages of the pandemic, the digital assistant also helped answer healthcare workers’ vital questions, including how to best wear and remove personal protective equipment.