Will Artificial Intelligence Make California's Tax Board Smarter?

Cathy Cleek, CIO of California's Franchise Tax Board discusses what the next wave of innovation will bring at the state's Franchise Tax Board.

by / February 17, 2017
Cathy Cleek, CIO, California Franchise Tax Board Government Technology/Jessica Mulholland

If you're like me, you are slowly gathering a growing pile of 2016 tax forms in a folder and soon will drop them off at your tax preparer's office. That's because it's tax season, and the April 18 deadline is little more than two months away. (Where does the time go?)

Speaking of taxes, TechWire recently sat down to talk with Cathy Cleek, CIO of California's Franchise Tax Board (FTB). Cleek has been in her current job for 11 years and has seen technology change during the course of her 33-year career at the tax board.

I asked Cathy what she thinks the next wave of innovation will bring at the Franchise Tax Board. Here's a snippet of what she had to say:

"I'm really excited about modeling capabilities. California's a big state — we have 17 million tax returns — so choosing the best cases to work, whether it's be an audit, filing or collections, is about modeling. And we do it well, but I think improvements in artificial intelligence and modeling that are coming are going to be super exciting for what we can do, as far as not [having to] contact someone.

"I would also add that with our call centers, we don't like it that we can't answer all of the calls that come in. We feel like with the Watson-kind of technology, we feel like we'll be able to answer more and more of customers' calls.

"We have a constant wave [of calls]. We have more people wanting to talk to us than we can answer, and this time of the year that's even more so. And I think most government organizations have more demand for calls and service. We don't want to be frustrating to our citizens; we want to be able to serve them and answer their calls.

"So one of the things we're looking at constantly is myFTB, putting more things that are self-service and looking at this Watson-like technology, that we can use artificial intelligence to have the computer answer more calls for folks — as well as human [call takers]. We'll always have people answering calls, but we think we can provide additional service."

Cleek also touched on the future of online self-service:

"There is so much work to be done there, and I think people are going to want more and more personalized websites. They want us to understand their needs, and present them with more personalized looks, like, 'Oh, you've contacted me: Here's the letter, here's how to respond.' Not other things that aren't of interest, based on your past interactions with us. Right now, on our website, [we show] all the options. But I think where we're going is more personalized options for people based on their behavior."

Matt Williams Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2