Amazon's Alexa Skills Help Mining of Open Data

Amazon's Alexa Skills can be used to help with open source data mining. (source: GCN)

Amazon's Alexa Skills can be used to help with open source data mining. (source: GCN)

July 2, 2018 | Source: GCN,, 28 June 2018, Sara Friedman

The Georgia and Utah state governments have created Alexa skills to make  information about government services more accessible. Now, local governments like Johns Creek, Ga., are getting in on the action.

The city of Johns Creek worked with Esri’s open source Sonar project to create an Alexa skill that has saved the city 10 hours a month answering phone calls since the skill launched in April.  (An Alexa 'skill' is an application that delivers tailored functionality over specialized information or processes -- ranging from interactive language lessons to voice-driven smart-home interfaces.)

Sonar is hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud and allows cities to build Alexa skills using information found in Esri’s open data portal capabilities.

“We host all of our open data on Esri’s cloud platform since they have a framework for creating an open data site that is easy to use,” Nick O’Day, Johns Creek chief data officer, told GCN.  “We latched onto their Alexa skill project as a way to get into the chatbot world.”

Hosting the city’s open data platform through Esri enabled O’Day’s team to have over 200 different questions baked into the Alexa skill at launch.

“We are able to get analytics on what questions people are asking, the time of day and if questions are answered correctly,” O’Day said. “If there are questions that people are asking a lot, we are trying to tweak the answers to make them more concise, and we are improving Alexa by adding answers to new questions that people are asking.”

Esri Sonar Open Source Project

Information should be easily accessible and ubiquitous. Often data requires complex user experiences through limited devices. Instead, what if data can be conversational through commonly used communications tools like Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa voice recognition.

Sonar bot provides a natural language interface to local government open data and demographic services that helps people ask questions of their community.

This project is a prototype concept that is still evolving. It currently supports:

  • Facebook messenger
  • Slack
  • Alexa Echo Skills

For Esri hosted open data sets, see Esri's Open Data Portal.