Cabarrus County, NC reinvents internal forms using chatbots

The county’s IT department is promoting a human-centered approach to workflows and internal requests. The result is an easy-to-use administrative process that frees up county workers to spend more time serving citizens.

Cabarrus County, NC reinvents internal forms using chatbots media 1


  • Cabarrus County is taking a human-centered approach to internal processes, using chatbots to streamline forms used by government workers.

  • The county’s IT department created a chatbot to facilitate Personnel Status Request (PSR) forms, allowing users to validate data instead of re-enter it.

  • A chatbot is also being used to manage equipment inspections in the sheriff's department, cutting down on the quarterly administrative work for deputies.

  • There are a number of lessons other agencies can learn when applying chatbots to their own internal processes.


Often, when we think about local governments implementing new technology, we focus on how this technology interacts with the public. $ Artificial Intelligence (AI)$  to fight homelessness. $ Drones$  to reenforce public safety. $ Virtual reality$  to get input on city planning.

But sometimes the really innovative thinking happens behind the scenes, out of sight of citizens. This doesn’t mean its impact is less — it’s just felt in different ways. As local governments streamline internal systems and processes, and remove time-consuming administrative tasks from employees’ plates, it frees them up to dedicate more time to serving citizens’ priority needs.

That’s what’s happening in Cabarrus County, where the local government is applying innovative technology to rethink tedious processes like filling out forms. County developers introduced chatbots to help workers quickly file internal requests or log equipment data. The switch to conversational, data-backed tools is a great example of how a human-centered approach can benefit local governments, and how one of the best ways to apply this approach is to start from within.

The rise of chatbots

Chatbot software simulates a digital conversation, with the user responding to messages via Q&A-style inputs. The user’s response often then prompts a follow-up question that’s dependent on their previous answer. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a common feature, allowing the chatbots to “learn” based on repeated user inputs, and provide more targeted responses to entries.

Chatbots have been around in some form for decades, but as the world goes digital, they’ve seen a surge in popularity. Social media apps like Facebook and Twitter have experimented with them. Health care providers use them for everything from scheduling appointments to triaging medical questions. Customer service departments use them across industries from finance to fashion. We even have one to help Govlaunch users navigate our wiki of over 5,000 local government innovation projects.

And more and more, as local governments transition into a more digital-first world, they are embracing the tool as a way to streamline processes and provide better service to citizens.

If local governments’ use of chatbots was already on the rise, the pandemic gave the tool an even bigger boost. According to the $ 2020 Center for Digital Government Surveys, more than 25 percent of cities and counties are already using chatbots$ . Another 37 to 39 percent of them weren’t using the tool, but planned to start implementing it in the next 12-18 months.

Among these government agencies, the actual application of chatbots varies immensely. In many cases, $ chatbots are filling in for traditional phone-based 311 services$ , allowing residents to ask questions or report issues to the bot. Other uses include a $ court texting service$ , which reminds people to pay their fines, and a way to $ answer public health questions$  during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cabarrus County’s chatbots reimagine department forms

Often the chatbots are used for citizen-facing services — but not always. One county in North Carolina used the technology to look inward. $ Cabarrus County rolled out chatbots$  to tackle something that sucks up a lot of government workers’ time: filling out forms.

To do this, the county developed chatbot technology that plugs into its digital forms. This streamlined a number of internal processes, saving county employees time and freeing them up to help citizens with more complex, non-automated tasks.

Cabarrus County software developer $ Landon Patterson explains$ :

“We’re taking a human-centric approach because so much of forms is just getting the data from point A to point B. What we want to do is take that human approach and integrate the needs of our users with the possibilities of technology, like chatbots, to fulfil those biz requirements that deem our process successful.”

This user-centric approach has been applied across a number of specific applications, from personnel forms to equipment inspection. Let’s take a look at how it works.

Streamlining Personnel Status Request (PSR) forms

As is the case in organizations around the world, when Cabarrus County workers need to request unpaid leave or go through a performance review, they have to complete paperwork. We’re all used to forms, so it may not seem like a huge burden, but when you look at the amount of time spent filling out forms across an entire department, the hours start to add up.

On top of that, the information people are writing down often already exists in records: name, department, etc.

To streamline the process, the county introduced a chatbot that guides users through the required inputs in a conversational way. It also pulls in existing data for them to validate rather than re-enter, saving time and quickly auto-populating the forms.

The time savings were significant, says Cabarrus County $ senior software developer Mark McIntyre$ :

“You’ve basically taken a process that took someone going back and forth between our employee system of about 20 fields [and simplified it] down to about five button clicks.”

Using the chatbot has not only made it easier on employees, it has improved the data the city is collecting from them. $ Says Patterson$ :

“Before you were taking multiple fields from one system and hand typing them in the other system. There’s always a margin of error for that. With this being all auto-filled, it’s pulled from the database… the things the user is entering are very minimal. It’s mostly confirmation that the data is correct so they validate the data for us.”

Chatbots revolutionize Sheriff's Department inspections

PSR chatbots helped county workers across various departments. But chatbots can also be an extremely effective way to solve a very specific need.

Take the sheriff’s department. One of the last things deputies here want to be doing with their time is paperwork. Documentation is critical, but it can take a lot of time, especially when it goes beyond casework, like logging equipment.

Every quarter Cabarrus County’s 300-deputy sheriff’s department must inspect all equipment, from uniforms to vehicles to printers and computers. That’s a lot of items to check, and a lot of data to collect. Deputies have to note the serial number, log the condition it’s in, note the specifics if there are issues. Even if everything is in perfect condition, the cycle starts over again the next quarter.

But not anymore — now a chatbot is simplifying the process and pulling in previous inspection data to make inspections easier and faster, $ says Patterson$ :

“The chatbot allows them to fill out all the same questions, but it’s smart enough to remember data from past inspections. So when they come to an inspection in a new quarter, they’re getting data from the previous quarter.”

Serial numbers are pre-populated. Past issues are noted. The user just has to confirm the data is accurate — no entering it from scratch. This makes a big difference, especially if you’re a supervisor overseeing many offers. $ Patterson explains$ :

“It takes that process and shortens it now to just confirmations once the first inspection is done.”

Key takeaways: Tips for implementing chatbots internally

Cabarrus County’s chatbots may be uniquely designed to meet the county’s needs, but there are a number of lessons any local government can draw from the work done here:

Digitizing your systems opens up new opportunities for efficiency

Cabarrus County couldn’t have succeeded with a chatbot without their systems and forms being digital first. The county, which uses the $ enterprise process and content management platform Laserfiche$ , first laid the groundwork for chatbots by building internal processes around digital systems and forms. $ McIntyre explains$ :

“Over the last couple of years we’ve really harnessed the power of forms, and we’ve helped use this to help make us paperless (almost).”

Once everything was digital and connected electronically in the platform, it became far easier for a chatbot to come in and add the human-centric user experience on top of the digital framework.

Consider the tools you already have

While the chatbot application was a groundbreaking tool within the county’s workflows, Cabarrus County had been working with Laserfiche since the early 2000s. This meant that the teams had a longstanding relationship, and the county was deeply familiar with what the product’s capabilities and opportunities were.

There are many $ chatbot products on the market today$ . But before you bring on someone new, do an audit of the systems you already have. Can one of these be redeveloped to introduce new functionality?

Stay focused on what problem you’re trying to solve

While chatbots can serve many different purposes, that doesn’t mean they should. Rather than introducing a sweeping chatbot that tackles all tasks across the local government, Cabarrus County chose very specific needs to address: PSRs and police equipment inspections.

When introducing a chatbot, always keep the specific use case in mind — this will help your questions, answers, and overall user experience remain laser focused on solving the task at hand.

Don’t just collect data — verify it

As Cabarrus County’s developers noted, asking people to enter data always comes with the risk it’ll be input incorrectly. If the data already exists, don’t make someone re-enter it, use the chatbot to present the existing information and ask the person to confirm it’s accurate.

This speeds up the overall process, eliminates possibilities for human error, and provides easy data validation that’s not a chore for city workers.

The easier a chatbot is to use, the more likely it is people will use it

Sometimes applying new technology in local government is a bumpy road. But if you make things easier for people to use, it’ll be a lot easier for them to embrace the change. The flexibility and ease of Cabarrus’s chatbot made it an instant hit, $ says McIntyre$ :

“As soon as we rolled it out people loved it, because it was just so easy to use. And it works on any device. It’s intuitive.”

That wasn’t an accident — the ultimate goal for chatbots is to make it so easy that the user can’t really hate it. $ Patterson explains$ :

“Users love easy. They gravitate to easy. It is different to get used to; a chatbot is a very different user experience. But in the end once you get through your first form using a chatbot you come to love it.”

$ McIntyre agrees$ :

“It’s like having a guided tutorial each time you fill out the form.”

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