When residents want answers to specific questions related to city services, they often have to weave their way through 1-800 numbers or try to figure out the answers from websites. However, for the citizens of Surrey, British Columbia, this problem could become a thing of the past, with artificial intelligence helping them navigate through their municipal infrastructure.

Purple Forge, a Canadian start-up, has brought innovation to Surrey, BC, by using IBM’s Watson super-computer to create artificial intelligence research assistants to help the residents of the city get answers to questions related to municipal infrastructure.

The pilot program has been launched in the city, which has already automated a lot of its informational services with the help of an app known as My Surrey. Now, people using this app can type out or say their question, and the app will immediately search through thousands of webpages to provide the correct answer.

Purple Forge Chief Executive Brian Hurley states that the AI research assistants are not like Apple’s Siri, which searches the World Wide Web for answers when it cannot find them in its system. The My Surrey app that uses the Purple Forge system has been designed to deliver full and complete answers. Hurley gives the example of a person asking how many chickens he can own in Surrey. Using the Purple Forge system, the person will get an accurate answer, which is 12 chickens for every 0.4 hectares of land, and this excludes roosters.

Hurley said that trying to find the answer to this question on the city’s website would be a time-consuming process. He believes automating information and making it easier to access that information will help municipalities save a lot of money. He claims that 50 to 80 percent of the answers that city staff typically end up answering through emails or phone calls are already available publicly, but they are not easy to find. Once citizens can find answers and information easily, it will free up staff to focus on more important matters. It will also allow municipalities to introduce services that they have been neglecting due to a lack of resources.

Purple Forge has partnered with TELUS, one of the leading telecommunication companies in Western Canada, to resell the app across the region. Surrey is the first city where the company is testing its program, and more cities and towns are likely to be added to its portfolio.

Just like Purple Forge, UCW knows the importance of innovation and how it can benefit local communities. That is why the university has made innovation an integral part of its MBA degree program. UCW MBA students are encouraged to find innovative solutions to real-world business challenges as part of their learning. The program creates MBA graduates who think outside of the box to drive business success in their workplace using critical thinking and making the best use of the opportunities that come their way.