Agencies opting for bots see more efficiency—and resistance
With enterprise automation saving thousands of work hours, IT leaders are looking for ways to introduce the technology to government offices.
Artificial intelligence could save agencies thousands of work hours if they automate processes and allow employees to focus on other tasks.
Tennessee saves over 100,000 work hours each year across more than 15 executive agencies, Bob Pucci, Tennessee’s executive director of intelligent automation, said during the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ mid-year meeting. The state plans to expand its automation initiative to the remaining eight agencies in the next couple of years, he said.
Tennessee has deployed more than 120 bots, and Pucci said the state has worked to find “common, or what we call enterprise automations” that can be used across multiple agencies and so be replicated and standardized.
It takes up to six weeks to implement a bot at an agency, and as part of the rollout, agency employees watch a video presentation that shows how the bots are taking on mundane, menial or paper-based tasks. Moving that work to the bots, the presentation said, can “ease the burden” on employees and improve customer experience for residents. Understanding that the bots are designed to relieve staff of tedious work also bolsters employee buy-in, which is crucial for enterprise-level automation.
“There is no one-man show,” he said. “It’s an orchestra” that requires everyone to be on board and to play their part.
Nationwide surveys show excitement among state and local IT executives for automation to improve efficiency of government operations. CompTIA Public Technology Institute’s (PTI) State of City and County IT National Survey found that 78% of local IT executives are either adopting or considering automating technologies, while 65% are similarly exploring or using AI.
PTI’s Executive Director Alan Shark said IT leaders are looking at these emerging technologies to help them “maximize their ability to align with all the needs of their cities and counties.”
“The tools are out there,” Shark continued. “That excites me because I think that's going to make government far more efficient and far more effective both in the areas of health and safety, and communications.”
And while automation may be useful in many areas, there will always be a need for humans to develop the software and monitor the work. Clint Dean, vice president of state and local government at IT service management company Ensono, said automation means jobs will inevitably change, as they have throughout history with the advent of new technologies, but they will not necessarily disappear.
Rather than to shrink the workforce and automate some jobs out of existence, IT experts said automation is best used to make employees more efficient.
“You still need people to think strategically, you still need people to make those machines, to program them,” Dean said in an interview at the NASCIO conference. “It changes and probably creates new jobs as well.”
As government agencies modernize their operations, a number are turning to AI and machine learning to understand how their legacy technology works and to extract relevant code from aging systems. Traditionally, that work was very labor- and time-intensive, but new technologies mean staff can spend less time reading and extracting code and more time on other tasks.
Miten Marfatia, CEO of software company EvolveWare, which focuses on modernizing legacy systems, said navigating resistance from workers who believe their jobs are disappearing and helping them understand what they can do instead is key.
Rather than let employees think their jobs will disappear, EvolveWare tells them that with automation their potential for success is “going to increase dramatically,” Marfatia said in an interview at the NASCIO meeting. By not spending time poring over code, he said, “there'll be so much more money and resources that they can apply to a newer generation of programming and code that they can be involved in.”
Similarly, app security company Veracode has turned to generative AI with its Veracode Fix technology that helps developers remediate vulnerabilities in code. The technology draws on the company’s 140 trillion lines of code built and analyzed over its 17 years of existence, scanning the lines written by developers to find deficiencies that must be fixed.
By automating that process, workers can focus on other tasks and produce secure software. “Developers want to be developing,” Veracode CEO Sam King said at the NASCIO conference.
Despite the potential AI and other emerging technologies hold for government, agency leaders must put proper guardrails in place to ensure it is developed safely and manage the changes it will bring to people’s work and everyday lives. If there is not a focus on “continuous improvement,” Dean Johnson, senior executive government advisor at Ensono, warned the tools may not keep up.
“Sometimes what happens is you roll out this great technology, and in the use case that created it, it's a perfect fit,” Johnson said in an interview at NASCIO’s meeting. “But let's face it, we're not managing a static environment.”
While opinions may be split on the future impacts of AI, King said it is not a reversible trend. “You can view this as a threat, or you can view this as an opportunity,” she said. “I think that we would be well served to view this as an opportunity [as] with any new technology when it comes out.”