Surrey first city in the world to integrate Q&A technology ‘IBM Watson’ in mobile app

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner Photo by Chandra Bodalia
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

THE City of Surrey announced Wednesday that it has launched a first-of-its-kind pilot project to integrate IBM Watson technology into its “My Surrey App”. This technology allows City customers to input questions into the application and receive direct answers rather than a traditional list of search results.

IBM Watson, made famous by its victorious appearance on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, has the ability to understand natural language and learn answers to common questions. Using IBM Watson, a customer can ask a question about city services in the same way that one might talk with a 311 operator. For example, when posed the question: “How do I make a Bylaw complaint?”, IBM Watson will answer “Make a by-law or animal control complaint with our Surrey Request app, by email at, or by phone at 604-591-4370.

“Surrey is excited to be the first city in the world to deploy this transformational technology,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. “Innovation is key to ensuring our city remains prosperous and prepared to face the challenges of the future. A successful integration of IBM Watson into the City applications will maximize efficiencies and provide residents with a better customer service experience.”

“IBM Watson’s learning abilities are such that the technology builds its knowledge and improves as citizens use it, much in the same way humans learn,” said Councillor Bruce Hayne, Chair of Innovation and Investment Committee. “This pilot is expected to enhance customer experience by increasing the accessibility of services, while providing City with insight into opportunities for improvement and reduction to service delivery costs.”

As part of the pilot, IBM Watson has been trained to understand questions for city services which include: Animal Control, Parking Enforcement, Waste Collection Pickup, Bylaws, Fire Police Emergency Services, Transportation, Utilities, Cemetery, Mobile Apps, Building and Construction, Engineering Customer Services, Engineering Infrastructure, Property Taxes, Culture, Recreation, and Volunteering.

The “My Surrey” mobile application has been updated to include IBM Watson’s natural language question and answer capabilities, and the City is currently exploring possible integration into its website. IBM Watson will operate on Purple Forge’s Software as a Service (SaaS) platform.

This pilot is a component of the City’s ‘Smart Surrey Strategy’ which seeks to build a city that uses technology and innovation to transform life and work within its region in significant and fundamental ways. Using new and existing technologies and information, the strategy identifies and implements systems to inform decision-making, create efficiencies and maximize its resources.

The City of Surrey is a “Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015” as named by New York-based think tank, Intelligent Community Forum.

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