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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

4 trends driving federal IT

Although the year opened under a cloud of uncertainty due to the partial government shutdown, optimism remains strong surrounding innovative IT approaches within the federal government. Momentum has built the past few years, beginning with the passage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act, through a wave of forward-looking policies, including the Office of Management and Budget's Cloud Smart proposal, the Federal Data Strategy, the establishment of the Centers of Excellence (COE) and the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

As we look ahead to this year and beyond, here are four key themes that should drive federal IT innovation and modernization efforts:

1. Improving citizen experience remains a priority

It should come as no surprise that improving citizen experience will remain a key focus for agencies, continuing a trend that the administration made clear last year when it included contact centers and customer experience as two of the five focus areas for the COEs. OMB’s recent customer service delivery guidance summed up this idea by saying it is looking to “establish a CX-mindful culture across Federal Government services.”

White House Special Assistant to President Matt Lira further explained the need for this culture change. “When the average American interacts with their government, there is a huge delta between the quality of those experiences and the quality of any other experience in their life,” Lira said. “Every time one of these negative customer experiences occurs, it undermines the people’s faith that institutions are working for them. They deserve better -- that is why we are focused on improving the quality of those experiences.”

A digital strategy to transform the delivery of citizen services is essential to meeting the administration’s goals. With this in mind, we expect to see new digital tools that mirror human activity, like automated voice systems and chatbots, become even more prevalent within federal government. And, because of its ability to harness analytics and apply machine-learning to imitate human activities and behaviors, artificial intelligence is becoming almost foundational to the digital transformation of citizen service. “AI is fundamental to the evolving customer experience,” Mary Wardley, IDC’s program vice president for loyalty and customer care, said. “IDC has estimated that within the next year, 40-percent of digital transformation initiatives will use AI services, as will 75-percent of enterprise applications by 2021.”

In government agencies, AI can be built into an intelligent virtual assistant to help a citizen complete a task or resolve an issue without the need for human intervention. The IVA can ask citizens questions and then, using AI, can make human-like decisions and respond based on the citizens’ answers. When the IVA can’t resolve the issue on its own, the call can be channeled to a human, but with all of the information already collected attached. It’s imperative that agencies capitalize on the digital tools that deliver an omni-channel experience to enable citizens to choose where, when and how they want to interact with government.

2. New approaches to digital transformation

Agencies now recognize that the secret to digital transformation success is an incremental approach -- rather than a “big bang.” We expect to see agencies apply this strategy by identifying and establishing pilot projects that can provide immediate value while still in the testing phase, validating their effectiveness before scaling them for wider distribution. We also expect to see agencies relying on more established tools such as robotic process automation to reduce the challenges and resources that come with a massive overhaul.

3. Technology is shifting the nature of federal work

This quarter, the next iteration of the Federal Data Strategy is expected to be released, further changing the nature of federal employees’ day-to-day activities in relation to how they gather, input and manage data. As the year progresses, this shift will only be exacerbated by an influx of emerging technologies and updated policy guidance.

In short, we anticipate the evolution of what federal employees do every day may be shifted up a notch to focus on more impactful tasks, instead of attending to manual or tedious work, such as data input. While this impact will be felt by current federal employees, it has the potential to greatly impact recruiting as well, as agencies continue to manage their workforce amid rapidly growing retirements and an increasingly competitive talent market.

4. An evolution in cybersecurity

Last, but not least, we expect to see the focus on cybersecurity continue to increase and evolve. This attention is predicated by new legislation passed at the end of last year, called the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2018, which and established CISA to succeed the National Protection and Programs Directorate. CISA sits in the Department of Homeland Security and elevates and consolidates the responsibility for security of our nation’s critical infrastructure into a single agency and charges it with working with government and private-sector partners to secure against the evolving risks.

Another aspect of cyber where we expect to see momentum across government is the encryption of data so that it can never be accessed, even if it falls into the wrong hands. So, while many of the previous cybersecurity efforts have been on developing stringent access rights and blocking hackers from getting into data repositories and systems, this new focus will identify how to protect data from being misused, even if it is hacked. 

A bright future for federal IT

Federal IT has reached a point where it is ready for true modernization. We have political leaders on both sides of the aisle pushing for strong reform, federal acquisition vehicles that can support the modernization journey and an industrious and innovative private sector that is ready to deliver emerging technologies that can change how government operates.

And most importantly, we have a workforce armed with the skills, tools and drive necessary to make sure these efforts deliver a powerful statement for the future of federal technology.

About the Author

Tom Romeo is general manager at Maximus Federal.

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