Rhode Island adopts IBM Watson Assistant; RHODA answers English, Spanish questions


International Business Machines (IBM) has launched new AI and automation capabilities in its intelligent virtual agent IBM Watson Assistant. According to the company based in Armonk, New York, United States, organizations of all sizes have turned to its virtual agent to help them address customer problems in the face of rising call volumes.

For example, when new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases began to surge in 2020, the state of Rhode Island in the U.S. realized fielding hundreds of thousands of calls from concerned residents was unsustainable. The state needed to improve its engagement with residents with more efficient processes and timely updates to rapidly changing COVID-19 information.


To address untenable workloads, Rhode Island turned to IBM Watson Assistant to address the engagement processes with residents and to improve the support with the contact center. The state and IBM Global Business Services (GBS) launched the virtual agent RHODA, which uses Watson Assistant to answer questions about COVID-19 in both English and Spanish.

IBM Watson Assistant’s new features help businesses leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and NLP to address customer issues on first contact. The virtual agent is designed to more quickly provide customers with relevant answers over the phone, web, short message service (SMS) and any messaging platform.


Since October 2020, RHODA has had more than 100,000 conversations on topics related to test scheduling, test results, travel restrictions and vaccine eligibility. In addition, IBM GBS integrated Watson Assistant into the interactive voice response (IVR) for vaccine appointment scheduling to help enable an improved experience for individuals that needed assistance with appointment scheduling.

“The pandemic slammed my team at the State of Rhode Island Department of Health and we quickly realized that our outdated systems and smaller call centers were completely unequipped to handle the influx of phone calls from concerned citizens, forcing us to pull staff from all directions within the department,” Rhode Island Department of Health COVID-19 operations chief operating officer Kristine Campagna said. “With IBM’s wealth of experience in AI, we were able to work together to seamlessly integrate Watson Assistant into our call centers, helping us provide thousands of citizens in a matter of days with information about COVID-19.”

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