chatbot (Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock.com)

Wisconsin looks to AI, cloud to improve professional licensing process

To better understand its occupational licensure review and adjudication processes, Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is turning to artificial intelligence and automation.

Using the Maverick AI platform by Google Cloud and MTX, DSPS will automate data entry and get insights into where bottlenecks typically occur in the licensing process. DSPS currently issues licenses for more than 240 occupational fields, ranging from barbers to tattoo artists to health care providers. It licenses about 1.1 million people every two years.

“Our credentialing process is almost 100% manual, and when I say manual, I mean waiting for the mailman to come,” DSPS Secretary Dawn Crim said. That’s because applicants fill out a paper form and mail it in, leaving department employees to decipher the handwriting and enter the data into the agency’s database. “Automating that process is going to be a great step in terms of licensing applicants much more quickly and helping our process be much more accurate.”

Right now, several teams handle data entry, but with the new solution, “we instead can use their expertise in actually in reviewing applications and processing and interacting with the customer, rather than simply trying to read handwriting, trying to track down what’s missing, trying to call people on what’s missing in order to even get a process in queue,” Crim said.

The companies are working to enable Maverick AI to automate data extraction from emails and attachments and send the information to DSPS’ database. It will also link necessary attachments such as degrees or certifications to the applications, with administrators being alerted to review any mismatches. The AI models will be a blend of Google and proprietary technology trained on DSPS license applications.

In addition to easing data entry, the technologies could help with customer service. For instance, virtual assistants could help in many permutations of the process, said Todd Schroeder, managing director for global public-sector strategy at Google.

Because the process for each license is governed by statutory authorities and regulations, there tends to be a specific workflow for each industry: “If it’s a funeral director, follow this flow, if it’s a health care provider, follow this flow, but check for these things first,” Schroeder said. “That’s a very daunting task” that generates a lot of outreach by the public to DSPS’ six-member contact center as appplicants call to make sure they’re following the right steps. Today, call center employees field 4,500 calls a week. Virtual assistants could help point callers to the resources they need.

And although the different industries have different requirements, there are questions common to all licensing types, and those are prime candidates for Google’s Dialogflow chatbots, Schroeder said. They use a natural language understanding platform that lets agencies design and integrate a conversational user interface into applications. The AI can comb through processes and statistics, such as how many calls virtual assistants deflect from staff. With those statistics, DSPS can make data-informed decisions about regulations, processes and procedures, he added.

“What this solution is going to enable us to do is figure out where the points of emphasis and major impact are within each profession because it may be different from a doctor’s application, from a social worker’s application to a funeral director application,” Crim said.

This modernization effort is part of the second of a three-phase effort the state is pursuing. The first phase focused on the state’s construction industry, including replacing the “regulated objects” system, a 20-year old software application used for commercial building inspection permits, plan reviews and credentialing.

The third phase will address the complaint process. DSPS has more than 100 councils, committees and boards that govern industry, so Crim wants to use technology to study where complaints are coming from and whether they can be attributed to regulations or licensed professionals themselves. She said she plans to use that information to drive changes to processes and rules, as necessary.

Other companies are offering ways for governments to streamline license approvals, too. At the beginning of the year, Accela launched the cloud-based Civic Application for Occupational Licensing to help organizations eliminate paper-based and manual steps by moving licensing workflows and functions online.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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