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City of Kobe – Supporting citizens with Microsoft Power Platform

Kobe is a city in Japan 300 miles west of Tokyo. With the spread of COVID-19, the city faced critical challenges that needed an immediate response. In this blog post we describe how they used Microsoft Power Platform to rapidly build solutions that have enabled the city to respond to the crisis.

As a result of these solutions, the City of Kobe successfully reduced the number of calls to their call center by 90% from 40,000 calls per day to 3,000 calls, resulting in an overall better experience for citizens, and cost savings for the city. It also allowed better accessibility for citizens with hearing impairment as they could use a website to find information instead of making a phone call.

This story is also published as a case study on the Microsoft customer stories site – City of Kobe connects citizens to key information during COVID-19 with Microsoft Power Platform, and was called out by the mayor of the city in a recent press conference:

Kizou Hisamoto, mayor of Kobe city, highlighting their digital partnership with Microsoft

 

 

 

Challenges that needed a rapid response

As part of their COVID-19 crisis response, the Japanese government announced a Special Cash Payment Program that allowed every citizen to apply for a subsidy. The citizens could apply for the cash subsidy through either mailing a paper application form or using a government website. However, there was no system to track the application status once the citizen had submitted an application. Tracking the application had to be done separately by each local authority. As a result, city officials were facing a high volume of incoming phone calls – over 40,000 calls on a daily basis.

With a limited number of officers available, phone calls were being dropped and only a few thousand calls could be taken each day. This caused further issues with citizens calling again, increasing the overall call volume. The phone-based system was also not very accessible for citizens with hearing impairments. City of Kobe officers urgently needed a system to monitor, manage and quickly respond on the status of these applications.

Another issue faced by city officials was keeping their website up to date with the latest COVID-19 related statistics. They had to manually update the Excel-based graphs published on the city’s official website. They did this by following a series of manual steps – consolidating data from multiple reports, editing Excel spreadsheets, updating graphs in Excel, and then uploading the graph images to the website. A lot of the time was being spent everyday consolidating and reporting on critical information.

 

Power Platform solution

To overcome these problems, City of Kobe created the following solutions to help support citizens and officers. The solutions use Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, and Power BI. The development efforts started in April 2020 with each solution below taking less than two weeks to build. As of May 2020, they’ve been deployed to all citizens and accessed by thousands of users per day. The Power Apps portals solution hit peak usage of over 200K+ in a single day, and as of July 2020 has been averaging 35K+ page views per day.

 

Special Cash Payment Application Management – Power Apps

A website was created using Power Apps portals, where citizens can quickly check the status of their application on their own. Using a desktop or mobile device, they provide the application number and instantly get detailed up to date information about their application. They no longer needed to make a phone call.

The out of box responsive layout capabilities in Power Apps portals enabled them to quickly develop a solution that adapts to desktop and mobile form factors.

The solution also includes a Power Apps model-driven app that is used by city officials to manage back office operations. This includes looking up details of an application while on a phone call or manually updating the application status. All the data is centrally managed in Common Data Service.

 

Power Apps portals site used to check special cash payment application status

 

 

Automated phone enquiry service – Power Automate

For citizens who prefer making phone calls, they can now call a designated phone number prepared by Twilio, a communication API service, that is connected to Common Data Service via Power Automate. The first prototype of this automated phone enquiry service was developed in less than a day, as Power Automate enabled them to quickly develop the integration between Common Data Service and Twilio with easy point-and-click setup.

The system runs in the following steps:

  • City of Kobe citizen calls a designated phone number
  • Twilio plays an automated message reply
  • The citizen enters their special cash application number
  • Twilio collects the entered number and sends a request to Power Automate.
  • Power Automate receives the request and queries the application status stored in Common Data Service.
  • Power Automate responds back to Twilio and the message is played back to the citizen with the status.

Power Automate designer site showing how Twilio integrates with Common Data Service

 

COVID-19 response chatbot – Power Virtual Agents

The City of Kobe used Power Virtual Agents to quickly create a chatbot that responds to frequently asked questions related to COVID-19. The bot provides instant responses and information for citizens through multi-turn conversations. For example, a citizen might ask about COVID-19 and through a series of questions the chatbot determines the right resources to share with them.

Power Virtual Agents used to create COVID-19 response chatbot

 

 

COVID-19 Response dashboard – Power BI

City of Kobe also developed a COVID-19 information dashboard using Power BI, which is embedded in the official city website. This allows citizens to see the latest information on COVID-19 in an interactive way. As of July 2020, the dashboard received 10,000 page views per day. For officers, this freed up time spent consolidating and updating the city website each day – allowing more time to focus on analyzing data and work on other tasks. Power BI retrieves the latest information from the open data website where city official posts the data.

Power BI dashboard embedded in the official Kobe city website

 

Solution Architecture

A summary of the Microsoft technologies used in the solution is as follows:

  • Power Apps model-driven apps: Provide easy navigation and rapid development of an app to manage Special Cash Payment Program.
  • Power Apps portals: Provides the ability for citizens to search for their application status for the Special Cash Payment Program.
  • Power Automate: When a phone call is received, flows are used to automatically provide information on the application status of the special cash payment program via 3rd party service Twilio.
  • Common Data Service: All data is stored in the Common Data Service, allowing City of Kobe to create a data store of over 700,000 applications in a matter of a few days.
  • Power Virtual Agents: Used for quick and intelligent responses to help citizens inquire about COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Power BI: Dashboards are used to automatically retrieve the latest information from various data sources, and update the COVID-19 related information to present to citizens on the website.

High level architecture of Microsoft Power Platform solutions assisting with Kobe city’s COVID-19 response

 

Meet the solution makers

The solution described above was built by Tsuyoshi Ito and members of the Power Platform community in Japan. Tsuyoshi is a city official in Kobe whose primary role is IT governance and strategy for the city. During the COVID-19 outbreak, a member of the Microsoft Power CAT team reached out and introduced him to the Power Platform. Tsuyoshi had some experience building IT solutions in a previous role, and quickly started ramping up and developing prototypes. Despite being new to the Power Platform set of technologies, within just a few weeks he was able to implement and deploy the solutions described above.

Tsuyoshi was supported by members of a local Japanese engineering community called COVID19ENGR that had formed to help with the COVID-19 response. Ryota Nakamura and Yugo Shimizu, two Microsoft MVPs from this community, supported Tsuyoshi in rapidly building and deploying these solutions at scale.

“I could develop all these solutions within a few weeks because Microsoft Power Platform made it so easy and intuitive to do so.” 

– Tsuyoshi Ito, City official of  Information Strategy Department, City of Kobe