IP Australia moving to undo legacy apron strings and operate round the clock

After digitising most of its back end, the patent office is onto the next phase of its digital transformation journey.

IP Australia's Alex is more than just a chatbot The patent office is investing heavily into cognitive computing, with its chatbot providing much more to the business than only being a first point of contact for consumers.

Intellectual Property (IP) Australia may have already digitised most of its back end systems, but the hard work is only about to begin as the federal government agency prepares to decouple its legacy channel services.

"We're really transforming into that digital business model and moving to a much more modern way of thinking, and we're using APIs to provide a single channel which multiple user interfaces and services can sit on top of," IP chief digital officer Damian Giuffre said.

The move to decouple its existing infrastructure, according to Giuffre, will mean IP Australia can enable customers to easily integrate business models such as software-as-a-service, case management, blockchain systems, and analytics, while also giving more structure to the data that flows in and out of its systems. 

There will also be opportunities for third parties to create new tools by combining IP Australia's APIs with other APIs to enable the easy registration of business names, domain names, and trademarks. 

Giuffre added it will allow IP Australia to operate 24/7 -- something that is currently impossible. 

"We have lots of small businesses who work during the day and transact outside of business hours. We also have lots of global businesses who expect to transact with us. Our customers expect us to be 24/7 but realistically we don't have the scale to guarantee uptime that customers expect," he said. 

As part of the process, the patent office has engaged with customers to receive direct feedback on how and what to develop for its API program. The agency has hosted approximately 40 workshops over six months and continues to host webinars every six weeks with customers.

"It is a technical build but fundamentally it's a change management exercise, so we need to bring customers onto new channels and integrate their feedback in meaningful ways," Giuffre said.

There's also great involvement from the board, with Giuffre outlining how there are fortnightly standups to help build trust and buy-in from executives on the projects that IP Australia are working on. 

"It's a chance for them to see the progress and see them evolve over time rather than just be given a list of deliverables as they happen. This is helping to change the attitude and mindsets of our executives and get them to understand what iterative change looks like in government," he said.

IP Australia's efforts fall under the federal government's whole-of-government approach to better service the digital customer. Today, a majority of its customers now communicate with IP Australia through digital channels. 

In 2014, 12% of its customers were using the agency's digital transactional channels. Today, that's now up at 99.6%. Calls to its contact centres have halved from 12,000, and now 38% of inquiries are handled by its chatbot named Alex, the same system used by the Australian Taxation Office. Approximately 100,000 conversations happen on the platform, with the bot being able to understand the customers' intention for contacting the government authorities 83% of the time. 

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