Georgia’s first chief digital officer says new role will bring expanded services to citizens

Nikhil Deshpande wants to take Georgia beyond just websites and web applications.

“Our platform that hosts about 82 websites across state agencies and elected officials is still the key,” Deshpande says. “But then we don’t stop there. Where can we go beyond that?”

Deshpande is the first chief digital officer for the state, after state Chief Information Officer Calvin Rhodes established the Office of Digital Services Georgia within the Georgia Technology Authority in October. Despite the new title and name for the office, Deshpande’s work remains consistent with the work he and his team had underway with the then-titled GeorgiaGov Interactive team.

“This is a newly appointed role and while the title is new, there’s a lot of the stuff that we were doing in the past is still constant, but we are expanding our services,” Deshpande says. “One of our flagship projects in the recent past has been exploring something that goes beyond just a website or a web application — that’s kind of where the intent is, and the majority of my role is really: ‘Can I be that citizen advocate?’”

The digital services arm of Georgia’s technology agency turned to Amazon’s Alexa platform earlier this year to help extend services to residents with disabilities. Using an Amazon Echo device, residents can enable a skill, which enables them to interact with government services and information using only their voices. Since the state’s first skill launch in April , the team has continued to expand its Alexa offerings, Deshpande says.

“We looked at — we have 50 popular topics. They are all based on what our constituents are searching for, what they are clicking on, so we know that they are popular,” Deshpande says. “We worked with agencies to make sure we have accurate information in a web-friendly form, so now we have a very truncated kind of version of what agency websites would have around that topic, just bullet points, brief paragraphs, and we attached that to an Alexa skill.”

The initiative to embrace Alexa skills and new modes of communication comes as a part of the team’s efforts to focus on a “single source of truth,” the state’s website, .

“The Alexa skill is probably the most recent project, and it will definitely change the way we provide businesses a new channel beyond the web or or application,” Deshpande says. “I will be excited to see how this actually gets implemented and then how more agencies get on board to use this.”