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Utah launches first state government ‘skills’ for Amazon Echo

A new app for Amazon’s digital assistant helps users study for their driver’s license test, and another delivers fun facts about the state.

Jake Williams
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Jake Williams Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives

Jake Williams is currently the Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives for StateScoop, based in Washington, D.C., where h...

Utah launched the first state government apps for Amazon's Echo, allowing their residents to prepare for their driver's license test and learn fun state facts using the voice-activated digital assistant. 

With the driver's license quiz app, or "skill," users can cue Echo to ask multiple choice questions about the state's rules of the road. Users can answer each question and the device, which responds to the name "Alexa," will say whether the answer is correct. The other skill rattles off facts about Utah's population, public lands and other topics. 

The apps, which came out earlier this month, were developed by the state's departments of technology services and public safety, and Utah Interactive, an affiliate of NIC digital government services company. 

Dave Fletcher, Utah’s chief technology officer, told StateScoop in a phone interview that he first became interested in Echo when it launched in 2015 — especially after he received one as a gift that Christmas. 

“I found it very engaging,” Fletcher said. “We decided we wanted to try out an app on it.”

Users can ask Echo to play music through its speaker, create a grocery list, give a weather report and complete other tasks. Amazon also released an application programming interface for the device, which allows developers to write their own skills for Alexa to perform when prompted by the user.

Fletcher and the team settled on a driver’s license practice quiz because of the device’s appeal to younger people. 

“Digital assistants present an incredible opportunity for simplifying business with state government,” Mike Hussey, Utah’s chief information officer, said in a statement posted on Utah.gov's Medium page. “We are always looking for new ways to integrate innovative digital solutions and move beyond how we currently help Utahans interact with government.”

The two skills are only the beginning for Utah’s foray into Echo. Fletcher said the state is looking to add additional search functions to the apps, and eventually allow users to do things like renew their driver’s license or schedule appointments by talking to Alexa.

The state is also looking at Hound — a digital assistant platform from the founders of music searching mobile app Shazam, and Google Now integrations with Google Cards. It's all part of a vision to be a "Smart State" (a term coined by Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt), Fletcher said.

“We want to promote that kind of thinking across all of state government,” Fletcher said. “That’s actually my goal — promote digital government across the United States. Not just in Utah. We can be an experimental lab for other states.”

Contact the reporter who wrote this story at jake.williams@statescoop.com and follow him on Twitter @JakeWilliamsDC.

-In this Story-

State & Local News, Innovation, Partnerships, Tech News, Digital Services, Emerging Technology, Mobility, Apps, Software, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Dave Fletcher, Mike Hussey, Utah Interactive, Amazon

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