Mr Rob Bollard, IP Australia’s CIO and General Manager of the Innovation and Technology Group/ Credit: IP Australia

Mr Rob Bollard, IP Australia’s CIO and General Manager of the Innovation and Technology Group/ Credit: IP Australia

EXCLUSIVE - Leveraging innovative digital technologies to transform customer experience at IP Australia

Today governments around the world and in Australia are seeking to leverage digital technologies to reimagine how they deliver services to customers. IP Australia is a leading public sector agency in the country in this area of digital transformation.

At IP Australia, which administers intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation relating to patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder's rights, the digital uptake improved from 12% to 99.6% within a period of less than four years, covering over 850,000 transactions annually. This makes IP Australia the first federal government agency to transform into a fully digital service delivery agency.

OpenGov spoke to Mr Rob Bollard, IP Australia’s CIO (Chief Information Officer) and General Manager of the Innovation and Technology Group, to learn about the organisation’s digital transformation journey.

IP Australia’s vision to have a world leading IP system that builds prosperity for Australia. Technology and innovation is a key enabler for achieving that vision.

Mr Bollard said that there are three components of the agency’s digital strategy: Fix, Modernise and Transform.

‘Fix’ is about addressing yesterday’s shortcomings and moving off legacy platforms and applications. Modernisation involves evolving the ICT operations, by utilising contemporary technology for continuous delivery, API-based integration services and shifting to cloud-based infrastructure.

Transformation is about testing and building on innovative digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, pervasive automation, intelligent assistance and big data. The aim is to use these technologies to give IP Australia a competitive edge. 

As part of this process, the agency has introduced a range of innovative digital services such as IP Folio, Virtual Assistant Alex and the Australian Trade Mark Search.

IP Folio

IP Folio is IP Australia’s first fully mobile app. It was released to the public on 6 December 2017 and launched by the then Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy.

It has been described as the first customer-focussed mobile app to be developed by any IP Rights agency globally. The data-rich, real-time and mobile-first app was developed in collaboration with Canberra-based company, Agile Digital.

The app is effectively a digital wallet for IP Rights and allows a customer to monitor the progress of a Trade Mark application, receive notifications of key status changes to a Trade Mark, and ‘watch’ or ‘favourite’ selected Trade Marks.

Mr Bollard elaborated, “We have adopted an agile approach with delivery focusing on Trade Marks capability first - around 60% of Trade Mark applicants are Australian small business or innovators who have never navigated the IP system.” 

Development is on track for the next version of IP Folio to be released later this year. The new version will feature the addition of Patents functionality and Android compatibility. There are plans for further integration with IP Australia’s online services in the near future.

Virtual Assistant Alex

Alex is IP Australia’s virtual assistant who has been working 24/7 to deal with customer enquiries. Alex uses a combination of advanced natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to better support customers.

Since her launch in mid-2016, she has managed more than 78,000 customer interactions till date and now handles 38% of total incoming enquiries to the agency.

Alex has helped streamline the customer experience through an omni-channel digital presence on IP Australia’s website, social media and electronic correspondence.

Through the virtual assistant’s deployment as part of a digital engagement strategy, IP Australia now has only one-third of the calls from 3 years ago. This improvement was achieved while maintaining our high customer satisfaction of 84%.

The latest Enhancement to Alex includes the introduction of Nuance Coach in September 2017 - an Asia-Pacific first. Nuance Coach uses AI and the latest in advanced machine learning technology to enable Alex to utilise ingested information to respond to increasingly complex questions.

“We will continue to evolve Alex in 2018,” said Mr Bollard. The team plans to integrate Alex within IP Australia’s authenticated platform to further understand attributes of the customer and tailor responses accordingly. This would help ensure that customers go experience a highly personalised and seamless interaction with IP Australia. 

The success of Alex’s integration with IP Australia digital channels led to IP Australia and Datacom receiving a 2017 Silver Stevie Award for Innovation in Technology Development, and being recognised at the 4th Annual Opus Intelligent Assistant Awards in San Francisco in September 2017.

Australian Trade Mark Search

IP Australia built an online trade mark search system in the mid-1990s. Over time the agency’s customers felt it needed to evolve. IP Australia decided to replace the system entirely and take the opportunity to adopt industry-leading practices.

With the launch of the Australian Trade Mark Search at PauseFest in February 2017, IP Australia became one of the first intellectual property agencies in the world to make combined machine learning and image recognition technology available to the public for searching trade marks, free of charge. The technology mimics the problem-solving networks of the human brain.

The tool was developed by Queensland start-up, TrademarkVision.

The tool’s technology uses multiple algorithms to detect objects within an image and make instantaneous comparisons across Australia’s entire trade mark database of over 400,000 images, returning visually similar images within seconds. This makes searching for similar logos simpler and faster.

The system has made searching for Australian trade marks easier for small businesses and introduced powerful features for intellectual property professionals. It receives over 1 million pageviews from 40,000 customers each month and it has not gone through any downtime since its launch.

Australian Trade Mark Search was recognised with an award at the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management in November of 2017.

All of these examples of adopting world-leading technology are fundamentally about making intellectual property information easily accessible to all Australians.

“People can now have a digital wallet on their mobile phones which is something you would have never seen 3 or 4 years ago. It provides much more convenience and transparency of information,” said Mr Bollard.

“Technology provides a fantastic opportunity for improving effectiveness and efficiency in the way we deliver our services. It provides ways for us to delight our customers and deliver our 24/7 citizen-centric model that is being demanded by people today for government services.”   

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