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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

5 tech trends for 2021

The pandemic forced government agencies to adapt rapidly. During the past 12 months, government IT teams have been busy enabling remote work, implementing cloud migration and digital transformation projects and securing an ever-expanding perimeter. Yet while 2020 ushered in significant change from a federal IT perspective, it’s merely the beginning.

Mega-trends like elastic cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things were converging with dramatic effect before the pandemic accelerated adoption. The forced mass shift to remote work simply sped up a transformation that was already underway, making many new technologies non-negotiable. As a result, the shifts that started in 2020 will snowball in 2021 and beyond. Here are five tech trends that all federal IT pros should have on their radar.

1. Automation moves out of the back office and into citizen-facing applications. Before the pandemic, automation was generally reserved for back-office tasks like approving or sending invoices. With government employees forced to work remotely, however, it’s become increasingly common for citizen-facing applications to use automation behind the scenes. Not only has automation kept employees safe during the pandemic, but it’s improving the productivity and efficiency of countless citizen-facing services. Without such tools, for example, people would not have received unemployment checks or food stamps during the pandemic, as those processes previously required human interaction. In 2021, even more citizen-facing applications will be powered by automation. Agencies can automate the first step in many citizen requests, catching if a signature is missing on a form, for instance, and sending it back to be corrected. 

2. AI (not just machine learning) establishes a true foothold in government. While automation is great for eliminating the need to use human resources on rote tasks, anything involving decision making requires artificial intelligence. In 2020, government agencies got increasingly comfortable with automation and machine learning. Data volumes have exploded to a level that humans simply cannot process the work; raw compute power has grown tremendously as well. As such, agencies now have the infrastructure, need and comfort level to rely on AI. It’s crucial to be able to build algorithms that don’t just sit on top of all that data, but that can learn and program themselves. Government adoption of AI is vital to both maintaining the nation’s geopolitical position and augmenting human-based processes in the wake of multiplying data volumes.

3. Remote-access technologies become the hottest security tech for the government. In 2020, federal IT pros were laser focused on business continuity -- and for good reason. It was crucial to get remote employees connected as quickly as possible. In 2021, they’ll have to go back and secure the many applications and networks spun up in the cloud over the last year. The attack surface widened dramatically in a very short time, and ransomware evolved to take advantage of the opportunity. This year, agencies must implement zero trust for remote users and then apply those settings to on-site employees, as opposed to the other way around. This means the focus will be on securing users and applications as opposed to networks themselves.

4. Government's data analytics capabilities will mature and move toward predictive analytics. Agencies should also use the explosion of processing power and data volumes to integrate predictive analytics into their workflows. Humans will always be part of the decision-making process, but predictive analytics will become more powerful and reliable in the next year and beyond. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, has turned to predictive analytics to help farm, forest and ranch managers make sustainable decisions. Additionally, predictive analytics are helping the Department of Defense anticipate when machine parts need to be replaced, which helps vehicles maintain a higher level of uptime. In 2021 and beyond, use cases for predictive analytics will continue to grow.

5. CMMC will drive continuous monitoring. As the security standard for the entire DOD’s supply chain, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification will continue to move the federal government and the defense industrial base away from an over-reliance on snapshot assessments or audits. Instead, CMMC places a high degree of emphasis on ongoing supply-chain evaluation and collaboration. Continuous monitoring requires a mindset shift as much as a technological one, and it allows for a greater understanding of any given contractor’s data, systems and network footprints. Additionally, continuous monitoring gives agencies the ability to establish a baseline on a company-by-company basis.

In all, 2021 should see not just the adoption of automation, AI and predictive analytics, but a more comprehensive security posture that includes everything from zero trust to continuous monitoring of the supply chain.

About the Author

Mike Shrader is vice president, innovative and intelligence solutions, at Carahsoft.

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