Miami-Dade County taps cognitive computing to handle citizen requests

Working with IBM’s Watson, Miami-Dade County’s water and sewer departments have developed and are rolling out smart chat bots to help citizens on city websites.

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Miami-Dade County’s Water and Sewer Departments are trying to improve their interaction with citizens, and they’re turning to cognitive computing to do it.

The county’s water and sewer department aims to roll out an interactive chat agent — dubbed the “Watson Engagement Advisor” — to offer assistance to citizens with questions at any time of day on the department’s website. The first phase of the project is on schedule to be released at the end of September, according to Carmen Suarez, the division director for the county’s enterprise architecture services division.

Suarez spoke on the county’s interest and eventual use of cognitive computing technology from IBM at the National Association of Counties’ Technology Innovation Summit Friday.

To prepare Watson — IBM’s artificial intelligence technology — the department is “training” Watson by inputting documents, data and frequently asked questions from the department into the cognitive assistant’s platform.


The water and sewer office is not the only department in the county to pilot a use for the technology. A similar project is underway in the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources to develop a reference tool for permit and planning reviewers for projects.

For that project, the department will input the South Florida building code, all of the county’s municipal codes, different building standards, review comments from back office systems and other permitting and construction data into the system to prepare the cognitive tool to help reviewers evaluate construction plans.

Going forward, Suarez said she would like to integrate a similar chatbot service — like the one nearing rollout in the water and sewer department — to help county employees and citizens when submitting permitting requests. She also said the county is looking to present Watson in multiple languages.

Eventually, Watson could evaluate plans and offer a first review before a human examines a plan, Suarez said.

Jeff Rogers, the director of IBM’s government cognitive solutions team, echoed the work that Suarez and her team were doing in Florida, and said that due to the IBM cloud and low-cost or free application programming interfaces, that even smaller, more rural counties and municipalities can tap into cognitive computing like Watson.


IBM offers APIs for speech to text, language translation, visual recognition and medical imaging, Rogers said. Some, not all, of those are available for free with the use of the IBM cloud.

“Most of the capabilities we’re talking about are available with APIs,” Rogers said.

For Suarez, the work with IBM and Watson has helped alleviate the strain on the city’s on-premise systems — actually saving the county money over time.

“All of these Watson engagements, we’re not standing these up on premise,” Suarez said. “We’re using the IBM cloud which makes it more cost effective and scalable.”

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