McAllen rolls out smart speaker app

McALLEN — The city of McAllen unveiled a new app last week that it says will help disseminate information about the city to a wider audience.

The city’s smart speaker app, available on Alexa and Google, currently has a database of approximately 700 questions and answers, which include information on things like city officials, hours for city buildings and details about city services.

“It’s just information; it’s the same general information that either our 3-1-1 call takers get or the departments themselves get,” Xochitl Mora, McAllen office of communications director, said.

According to Mora, the questions and answers were collected by collaborating with various departments in the city.

“You still have to upload all the information to it, so it was a collective effort,” she said.

The app is part of the city’s effort to provide citizens and guests with information about city services through a variety of outlets.

“It will certainly serve as information, especially after hours and on the weekends,” she said. “That represents for the city of McAllen another customer service tool for us to be able to offer not only to residents, but really anyone in the world.”

Mora said new queries will continually be added to the service, and eventually, the app is expected to be able to answer complex, specialized questions.

“We will be gathering those metrics of how many people download it, of what questions are being asked,” Mora said. “Which would then have to take a whole bunch of metrics, this is your home at X-address, and can answer specifically to you.”

Currently, the city does not have any data available on how many people have downloaded the app or how frequently it’s being used.

Mora says the city has been eyeing the project since the summer and that it was paid for with surplus funds from the IT department.

“We did a really quick outreach to companies to give us some proposals,” she said. “We needed to have it done by September.”

Mora said the app is part of an ongoing effort by the city to disperse information in a diverse fashion that embraces new technology.

“This is just another tool that we have at our disposal and really in our offering to the community so that we are open and accessible to anyone wanting to find out about the city of McAllen,” she said. “We want to be able to be accessible with all of those formats.”