The Show Must Go On. How State and Local Governments are Powering Through Budget Shortfalls

Though the word may be overused, state and local governments are indeed facing unprecedented challenges. Forced to move operations online in response to their own stay-at-home orders, state and local agencies have spent the last year retooling how they serve citizens. They have been paying for necessary technology upgrades and other new equipment while revenues from taxes have dropped considerably. Even with these financial challenges, state CIOs are committed to continuing with their innovation and modernization efforts.

A study from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) showed that priorities for state and local CIOs stayed consistent over the last year, with cybersecurity and enhancing digital citizen service being the top two. Of course, these two areas saw critical investments in 2020 just to keep the business of government running. In 2021, the solutions put in place will be revisited, evaluated for efficiency, and operationalized to support agencies moving forward.

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I See What You’re Saying. Natural Language Processing’s Role in our Digital World

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a computer science practice that aims to give computers the ability to understand text and spoken words in the same way humans can. NLP is a key feature of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as understanding the language that we use to "teach" computers is critical to evolving the accuracy of the AI tasks we are asking of them.

The most familiar application of NLP is speech recognition--taking the spoken word and converting it to text. Speech recognition also is part of any application that follows voice commands.To work properly, the technology has to be knowledgeable of accents and frequently understand context (semantics) to differentiate words with a similar sound but have various meanings or spellings. NLP is also closely tied to several tasks that work in the background of applications we use everyday, including spam detection, foreign language translation, virtual assistants, chatbots, social media sentiment analysis, and text summaries/abstracts for long documents.

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Tanks, Planes, Ships, and Data: Activating the DOD’s Data Strategy

The battles of tomorrow will likely not be fought on the ground, they will take place in cyberspace as nation-states and rogue actors alike look to interrupt the everyday functions of a country via high-tech attacks. Recently we saw the Russian hack of software, designed (ironically) to help organizations monitor network problems and anomalies, which has the government and private companies scrambling to determine what data was compromised. With cyberspace being the new battlefield, data and data management have quickly become a strategic asset in the DoD arsenal.

Last fall, the DOD released the Department's Data Strategy. An overarching guidance on how they will manage, secure, and use data. This document supports the DOD's transition to "a data-centric organization that uses data at speed and scale for operational advantage and increased efficiency." The Data Strategy includes 7 goals, nicknamed VAULTIS, to becoming data-centric:

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Artificial Intelligence Gains Energy

The development and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) became official policy of the United States with the signing of an Executive Order in February. This order outlines and directs America's government-wide push to advance the use of AI through research and public/private partnerships. In the ensuing months, the Department of Energy has emerged as a leader in these efforts.

In September 2019, the DOE initiated the Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office (AITO) to help channel the department's vast resources across its national lab facilities. These efforts are paying off as DOE partners with Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs as part of the COVID-19 Insights Partnership with the goal to increase data sharing and analysis in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. The DOE is also pressing ahead with private partnerships announcing the First Five Consortium with Microsoft, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Defense Department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC). Together they will develop AI-based solutions for data-first responders.

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For Government, It’s Already 2021

With many people in a rush to put 2020 behind us, those of us in the government market can safely say we're operating like it's 2021 (not as fun as partying like it's 1999, but anything beats 2020, right?). While the rush to meet the deadline for federal government fiscal year (GFY) spending on September 30 may have felt oddly comforting in its familiarity, there are many changes happening in government acquisition and procurement to make processes more responsive to today's workforce and technology needs.

The use of automation is expanding beyond using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to handle rote, repetitive tasks. RPA has been incredibly beneficial for freeing up the time of acquisition professionals to focus on innately human activities, rather than administrative tasks. Now, acquisition groups are going a step further and introducing Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve processes by tapping into all of the data available in acquisition systems. For example, GSA uses an AI-enabled bot to "track, find and change Section 508 disability clauses in contracts." This helps ensure compliance, feeding updated clauses to humans for final review.

In September, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued Directive 5000.01, an update to the 5000 series instructions that focuses on the roles and responsibilities for its acquisition process in an effort to simplify the buying process. The end goal of this simplification is to get technology in the hands of the warfighter faster. Continue reading