Semantics brings efficiency and innovation to digital agendas
We were delighted to be awarded a contract last month under “Lot 5 eDiscovery Solutions” of the UK Government’s Digital Continuity Framework (see our press release here).
As is well known, this comes at a time of unprecedented expenditure cuts by the UK Government. On average, central government departments are cutting their budgets by 25%, with some looking for significantly larger reductions in spending.
One might think then, that the award of a framework contract (effectively a call-off agreement) at this particular time is not especially exciting news. But the Digital Continuity Framework (DCF) could turn out to be a vital tool for Government as it works to resolve conflicting priorities.
The National Archives, who is managing the programme with Buying Solutions, describes DCF as “The ability to use your information in the way that you need for as long as you need.” The Government’s digital information is growing exponentially, becoming ever more complex, and as it ages, risks to its usability increase as formats become obsolete, metadata gets lost, versions multiply, and so on. Yet all the while, “government data” is becoming more and more “public data” as people expect greater transparency of government operations, decisions and actions.
In addition to meeting these expectations of transparency, the Government has an efficiency agenda which is thrown into dramatic relief against the backdrop of spending cuts. The efficiency agenda is about saving and avoiding costs, and making processes and work practices streamlined and efficient. A key part of this is ensuring information is easily findable, accessible and usable.
So how to resolve these apparently conflicting aims? Initiatives like DCF can provide the basis by making a set of products and services, tools and technologies more easily available under standard terms and conditions.
For the rest, we must look to innovative solutions that take technology even further. Semantic technology has much to offer in the way of both efficiency and innovation. Its ability to enrich information through automated tagging and categorization, combined with the ability to extract key entities (people, places, organizations, dates, legal references, policies, concepts, etc.) allows users to discover information faster, and more efficiently. And because semantic technology is much closer to the user in understanding the meaning of words, it can be more intuitive in the search and discovery process—which means it requires less time from users to construct searches (the software takes care of synonyms and alternative expressions, not the user) and less time to sort through data that is irrelevant to the query.
Based on our experience, there are many ways that governments can benefit from the implementation and use of semantic technology:
Improved communications with citizens. Natural language processing and semantic analysis support real-time engagement between citizens and their government via email, internet and SMS. Rather than being limited to a list of FAQs or automated responses, citizens can query the system in their own words, and receive immediate responses. A more natural search experience improves access to web-based health information, giving patients more precise and complete answers.
Better, more efficient customer service. By streamlining the management of web and email inquiries, semantic technology has the ability to distinguish between queries that can be answered by the system, and those that must be elevated to a live representative or to a higher level of attention.
Faster access to information. Through its ability to automatically and accurately categorize and cross-reference large volumes of legislative and policy documentation, it is much easier for users to find any document and all its related information. By automating the correlation and analysis of documents, semantic technology can assist with legal investigations that by nature involve countless documents.
More insightful analysis. Semantic search provides many ways to help investigative activities “join the dots” more quickly and more effectively between people, places, events, actions and other entities of interest when analyzing large volumes of text in all its various forms.
Here at Expert System, we’re excited to see this progression, but we’re not surprised. For the last several years, we have been working with central, regional and local government bodies to help provide solutions with the objective of better information access and improved efficiency.
The DCF creates a clear opportunity now for government departments, authorities and agencies to move quickly, and innovate. I am anticipating that this might be one of those times when several forces come together—strong government policies, an enabling contractual framework and recognition for a proven but, so far, relatively under-used technology—and create one of those “Eureka” moments that’s a win-win for everyone.