Task / Problem
Until now, there has been no convenient way to use citizen services of the EU member states in an integrated way. For example, in order to study for six months in a European country other than one's own, a wide variety of applications have to be made in both countries - for finding a place to study, for certificates, for registration, etc. In each country separately, mostly in the national language. This is to change in the future: With the Single Digital Gateway (SDG), a uniform digital access gateway to the administrative services of the European Union (EU) and its member states will be established in the coming years. For this purpose, the already existing digital EU platform "Your Europe" will be expanded and converted: Citizens and businesses will have online, user-friendly access to information, procedures and assistance and problem-solving services in all EU Member States.
Selected administrative procedures will be made available digitised across borders in all Member States in such a way that they can be handled online without any media discontinuity. In the ACROSS project, methods are being researched and a tool framework developed to guide citizens through these new services in an interactive, user-friendly and easy-to-understand manner. In compliance with the framework conditions to be considered in public administration with regard to data protection and data sovereignty as well as other regulatory requirements applicable in the concrete application domain, innovative concepts from the fields of AI, semantic technologies, cloud and mobile computing, among others, are combined for this purpose. ACROSS is being developed and pilot tested in three countries (Greece, Germany and Latvia).
ACROSS is funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research and innovation framework programme and is scheduled to run for three years. The consortium - consisting of ten partners from seven European countries - is coordinated by the Athens Technology Center ATC. In addition to Fraunhofer FOKUS, the consortium includes Tecnalia, Dataport, Engineering, GRNET, TimeLex, Lisbon Council, WAAG Gesellschaft and VARAM.
In the ACROSS project, a platform is being developed based on the user journey methodology, which makes it possible to make a broad spectrum of online services available in EU member states (from public administrations or also from the private sector) integrated into (possibly transnational) workflows and accessible in a convenient way via a "one-stop shop" application. The necessary cross-border access to personal user data is organised by the platform and can be controlled transparently by means of a privacy dashboard.
In the ACROSS project, Fraunhofer FOKUS is responsible for two user support tools integrated into the ACROSS platform:
The User Journey Modelling Tool (UJMT) enables experts from the administration, who are familiar with the existing service portfolio, to design specific workflows that correspond to concrete use cases (e.g. "moving from Greece to Germany for study purposes"). The sample workflows specified in this way are stored in the ACROSS platform. When users plan and prepare a stay abroad with the help of the ACROSS Platform, these sample processes are selected and implemented like "recipes". Other components of the ACROSS Platform also organise the actual processing ("orchestration") of the selected workflow pattern in the further course by calling its individual services to be used ("elementary") in the correct order and, if necessary, enabling the user to interact with the current active service. This may be necessary, for example, to enter additional data required for successful service execution.
The user journey modelling tool enables the user to first get an overview of available online services that are suitable for the intended purpose. These are determined from a "service catalogue" and initially presented in a kind of palette. From this palette, they can be taken to compile complex workflow patterns graphically and interactively. The modelling tool is implemented on the basis of a web-based diagram editor, which is available as a mature open-source software package.
The Virtual Assistant (VA) aims to make the functionality of the ACROSS platform provided via the user interface of the "One-Stop Shop Application" available to citizens in an even more convenient way - conversationally, i.e. via (written or spoken) dialogues in natural language. The VA builds on concepts and technologies developed in previous projects at FOKUS to achieve a seamless and minimally invasive integration with the ACROSS app. The system's speech processing and dialogue control is based on a hybrid AI approach that integrates deep learning techniques and rule-based techniques (again, consistently building on open-source software packages) to achieve maximum benefit with the lowest possible AI-specific risks.
Following the realisation of the first, still isolated proof-of-concept implementations in the first project phase, the first versions of both user support tools integrated with other components (under development) of the ACROSS platform were delivered by FOKUS in time for the project review (in May 2022). Thus, a major milestone of the project could be reached.
With the UJMT, it was successfully demonstrated before this year's ACROSS review how a sample workflow could be designed graphically-interactively and then orchestrated and executed by the collaborative "User Journey Service Engine" component developed by partner TEC.
In the demonstration, the VA was able to successfully control the functionality of the one-stop-shop app for selecting and starting a sample workflow in both German and English, using voice and chat. This demonstrated both the functionality of the close coupling of the VA with the One-Stop-Shop app developed by the consortium partner ATC (and consequently indirectly also with the components downstream of the UJMT in the processing flow, such as the UJSE), as well as the basic practicability of the concept used to support multilingualism.