3 federal technology trends to watch this year

IT modernization is giving agencies a way to take advantage of emerging technologies to improve their operations and enhance citizen experience.

We are entering a defining period for the federal government. Not only are we barreling toward another presidential election, but a continuing influx of emerging technologies will transform how agencies operate.

“IT modernization” has been a catchphrase for years now, and we’ll see that attention continue with the implementation of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA).

The biggest story in 2020, however, will be how these new technologies affect people. It will be critically important to observe how agencies change their culture and procurement approaches as they implement these technologies to improve their operations and the citizen experience.

With that in mind, here are three trends to keep an eye on this year:

Trend #1: The changing nature of health care

How people apply for health benefits and receive their care will continue to radically transform in 2020, specifically when it comes to the citizen journey, as there is a wave of new technologies that make navigating the health-care process easier.

An example of this shift already underway in Louisiana, where the state’s Healthy Louisiana app has modernized the enrollment process for its Medicaid beneficiaries. Previously, Medicaid-eligible residents would sign up by mail, phone or in-person -- a time-consuming and often inconvenient process. Thanks to this new app, users can now securely enroll from their smartphones and take advantage of other app features like comparing plans and finding doctors. It is the first Medicaid enrollment app in the country and an indication of what the future could look like for citizens looking to enroll in federal programs.

Trend #2: Managing the robots, who will NOT take your job

The biggest myth in technology today is that robots are coming to take away people’s jobs. Simply put, this is not true. The implementation of automation processes and technologies like AI and RPA are not designed to reduce the workforce. They’re being deployed so government can more efficiently support programs, fulfill more requests and better help the people agencies serve.

In 2020, automation will be applied to further eliminate repetitive, manual tasks for employees, who can instead focus on more strategic work. It will also be leveraged to enhance self-service tools for citizens so they can access government services how, when and where they choose. For years, the mantra for agencies has been to do more with less, and automation is vital to achieving that goal.

Additionally, a recent survey found that 72% of government employees take pride in their work but that about half would leave if offered a comparable job elsewhere. And, with much of the workforce nearing retirement -- a recent Market Connections survey found that 42% are planning to retire or work elsewhere in the next five years -- it’s become imperative that government leaders retain valuable institutional knowledge and expertise by ensuring that their employees are doing work they find fulfilling.

By automating mundane and manual tasks, employees will be able to focus on higher-value and more complex responsibilities, which leads to increased job satisfaction and career development. So, the robots aren’t actually coming to take away jobs -- they’re coming to help make workers happier with their jobs.

Trend #3: The continued consolidation of contracts

From a procurement perspective, the continued consolidation of contracts will cut across all federal agencies and significantly impact technology purchasing.

As recently reported, the General Services Administration plans to consolidate its buying schedules across product areas from 24 to just one to reduce duplication and overlap. That reduction cuts across multiple service market segments, commodity-like commercial items, security equipment, hardware and more. The push for contract consolidation has been going on for several years, specifically around IT modernization, but that push will hit overdrive in 2020.

This trend will have two major implications. First, it will increase the importance for contractors to win slots on the consolidated contracts, since more work will be acquired through them. Second, it will make the acquisition process easier for both the government and contractors, as these governmentwide acquisition contracts  use predefined terms, conditions and rates to simplify bidding under the contract vehicle.

The year ahead

The federal government is on the verge of a historic shift when it comes to how it implements and uses technology. As one of the few bipartisan issues left in Washington, the IT modernization push that began during the Obama administration and continues in the Trump administration is entering an exciting new phase, with agencies poised to take advantage of emerging technologies.

The future for federal technology is very bright, and 2020 should bring another exciting year for those invested in modernizing government. 

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