In 2019, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 324 titled “Georgia’s Hope Act” that created and authorized the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC) to oversee the regulated licensing of limited, in-state production of low-THC oil as well as dispensing to registered patients on the state’s Low-THC Oil Registry.
After Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill into law and funding was established, Andrew Turnage was appointed to lead the State of Georgia agency in May 2020. With the newly created state Commission, Executive Director Turnage’s first responsibility was getting systems and processes in place for the agency to have direct regulatory oversight for a competitive application request for the proposals process that would lead to selection of six production licensees. These six facilities are secure-access greenhouses where medical cannabis will be grown, and where the components of those botanicals will be extracted and formulated to produce specific medicines to address 18 qualifying patient conditions.
GMCC works closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the state agency that manages the registry of more than 20,000 patients and lawful access to the low-THC oil program. GMCC is charged with the responsibility of getting medical cannabis into production and licensing dispensaries, which will eventually provide access to low-THC oil for qualifying Georgia patients in need.
“The challenges faced when setting up a government agency from scratch are similar to those one would encounter in the private sector,” said Turnage. “You want to go from saying, ‘I need to start a business’ as a concept to setting up operations very quickly, but you must deal with budgets, legal requirements, staffing, and, of course, getting the right infrastructure in place, as well as handling the unexpected, in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Within the first 30 days of GMCC’s creation, COVID-19 restrictions were implemented, including building closures and the inability of GMCC to conduct in-person meetings. The new GMCC agency, with a small budget and limited staff, realized it needed to become almost an exclusively cloud-based organization.
“We needed to get consistent information into an easily accessible format that could reach a very wide audience in a short period of time. That meant a website that could be updated regularly, and, ultimately, go live with application process information,” said Turnage. “We also needed basic information systems like telephone and email. This required a process that could accomplish the agency’s stand-up reliably and securely.”
Turnage also felt GMCC would need a way to quickly engage patients who visited the new website. The Commission felt patients expected to find fast and accurate answers about Georgia’s new medical cannabis law. Based on a high volume of contacts at the agency, but with a very limited staff, Turnage didn’t think they would have the capacity to accommodate the large number of calls and emails to their contact center.
After conducting research to find a cost-effective productivity solution that would enable flexibility and agility, GMCC selected Google Workspace. To implement the solution, Google Cloud recommended that GMCC work with SADA, a Google Cloud Premier Partner and a three-time Google Cloud Reseller Partner of the Year.
SADA’s team of experts helped the agency deploy Google Workspace for employees and commissioners; implement Google Voice telephone service and virtual call center applications; create its website with Google Sites hosted on Google Cloud Platform (GCP); and establish Google Vault to securely retain documents.
To quickly respond to the frequently asked questions patients inquire about the most regarding medical cannabis, GMCC selected a chatbot powered by Dialogflow. Using this very robust conversational AI technology from Google Cloud, GMCC will be able to respond to patients’ frequently asked questions in real-time.
SADA experts performed an analysis of patient intents to train a Dialogflow ES Agent on 25 to 30 questions. Additionally, SADA delivered several hours of Dialogflow training to fine-tune the chatbot answers. To store the questions submitted to the chatbot, SADA stood up BigQuery. SADA also set up Data Studio to provide concise reports for future chatbot mods.
After the chatbot went live, SADA provided four weeks of check-ins two to three times a week. Then SADA and GMCC met to review input that did not match up with a pre-scripted answer and update the chatbot with more precise phrases.
As a result of their work with Google Cloud and SADA, GMCC has been able to go from legislation and concept to a functioning governmental agency in less than a year.
“We had a very small business-style budget, but we wanted to deliver big. It’s been a series of miracles, truly. We went from a nonexistent agency to opening the RFP process for medical cannabis production licenses within six months.”Andrew Turnage | Executive Director, GMCC
Inside 30 days, SADA stood up GMCC’s Google Workspace instance with Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Voice. With a small staff, GMCC can leverage their agility to move quickly with Google Workspace while fielding licensing inquiries, answering questions from the public, and corresponding with other state and federal government agencies and officials. All the documents they create or receive in the performance of their duties are stored securely in GMCC’s instance of Google Vault.
“In much of the private IT support services sector today, it is almost impossible to reach anyone directly by phone; it is even difficult to reach support by email. The most common approach from an IT service provider is to have the customer submit a trouble ticket and require them to wait. However, utilizing Google Cloud and SADA, if I call on the phone or send an email, someone responds quickly.”Andrew Turnage | Executive Director, GMCC
Additionally, SADA set up GMCC’s website with Google Sites. This tool provides GMCC the capability to maintain and post updates without the need for professional design or programming skills. Google Workspace gives the GMCC staff the ability to access Sites from Google Workspace applications such as Docs, Drive, or Calendar.
“We chose Workspace because it gives us a cost-effective productivity and collaboration solution and offers us the ability to choose the applications we need,” said Turnage. “We did not have these options inside the Office 365 environment. Google Workspace does exactly what we need, when, and where we need it.”
After SADA implemented the Google Cloud Dialogflow chatbot solution for GMCC, the public and Georgia’s low-THC oil registry patients have been able to find much-needed information about medical cannabis with ease. Specifically, GMCC has been able to:
- Engage up to 20% of its website traffic with the AI-powered chatbot
- Field dozens of variations on questions related to medical cannabis based upon various keywords
- Customize the chatbot with additional abilities to answer patient questions, as needed
Most importantly, the Diagflow-powered chatbot has aided GMCC’s limited staff with answering general inquiries. As a result, GMCC has been able to focus on operationalizing the delivery of critical medicine to patients with severe or terminal conditions.
When it comes to productivity, collaboration, and AI solutions, GMCC has benefited greatly from the help of SADA and Google Cloud. Leveraging advanced cloud technology, GMCC can now deliver well above their agency size in taking on a very important medical mission.