AI Goes Local

State and local agencies are home to some of the most innovative ideas in government. Their use of artificial intelligence (AI) is no exception. Localities are embracing AI as a way to make sense of all the data they hold to better understand how citizens are using their services and where gaps may exist. A survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released in the fall of 2019 found that 32% of those surveyed "strongly agreed" that AI and related technologies can help them meet citizen demands and improve operations. Specifically, the survey found that nearly 50% of respondents planned to use AI as a way to shift workers away from rote tasks and toward high-value activities.

Taking a look around the country, we see some interesting applications of AI at the state and local level.

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Meeting the Needs of the Federal Workforce

The U.S. Federal government is the single largest employer in the country (even just counting civilian employees, not military). With the size and scope of work involved in running our government programs, this community of over two million people is incredibly diverse, but there are some commonalities in terms of workforce challenges and concerns.

  • Automation - There is a real fear as digital initiatives become routine and administrative tasks are automated, machines will take over the work of humans. However, workforce and technology leaders have said over and over this is simply not the reality. Yes, certain tasks that people used to do will be handled by machines, but that shift frees up those same people to do other, more valuable work. The government is committed to "reskilling" the workforce to be able to rise to these new, more innately human tasks and, in turn, expect to see increased job satisfaction as people move from rote, mundane tasks, to activity that has a closer connection to the mission of the organization they work for.
  • Relocation - The military has grown accustomed to the BRAC process as bases are closed or their use changes to better support the realities of global defense. However, relocation is now a reality for the civilian workforce. With telework and remote workforces now better enabled, it is not as critical that all workers are located in Washington, DC. The government, including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, has been looking for ways to consolidate operations in areas that are more central to the constituents they serve and are in areas of the country with lower real estate prices and cost of living.
  • Stability - Once thought to be the most stable of jobs, recent spending impasses and resulting government shutdowns have left one in four government workers worried about the impact a shutdown would have on their life.

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Blockchain: Are We There Yet?

Implementations and pilots of blockchain continue across government. The benefits of blockchain, including decentralization, immutability, security, and transparency, are appealing in government as they relate directly to mandates around security, privacy, and data openness. It is these needs that will drive further acceptance and use of blockchain.

As this article points out, innovation is not found in just one technology alone - it is a combination of inventions that when used together toward a specific goal create a new way of doing something. The example cited is the airplane. Human flight was made possible by the desire to travel faster and the combination of technologies and discoveries such as the gasoline engine and aerodynamics. Similarly, the goal of peer-to-peer transactions powered by blockchain will be achieved when the technology is combined with other innovations and processes. Some early successes fueling the wide application of blockchain include:

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Easy as RPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It may sound like a premise to a movie where robots take over the world, but it's very real and it's helping organizations realize modernization goals. Despite the name, RPA has nothing to do with robots. It is about software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate high-volume, repetitive tasks. This can include queries, calculations, and maintenance of records and transactions.

In government, RPA is already being implemented in a wide variety of applications.

  • Inspections - As agencies look to modernize the way they perform inspections of the water we drink, the roads we travel, and the buildings we travel to, they are using RPA to move off paper-dependent processes.
  • Claims review -- RPA is built into an intake tool used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that ingests records, automating the process and identifying potential problems.
  • Procurement - RPA is being used to automate and streamline the close-out process of government contracts, freeing up staff to work on actual programs, rather than spending time documenting that work.
  • IT asset management - Managing IT assets is a combination of automated and manual tasks. The introduction of RPA greatly reduces the need for manual intervention when it comes to enforcing governance and process, freeing up staff to work on mission-focused projects rather than tracking the technology used on those projects.

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Behind the Curtain: National Contract Management Association

As we've written here, the contracting and procurement market is at an interesting crossroads. The current workforce is aging and retiring making it difficult to find and train incoming talent. Additionally, new technologies such as AI and blockchain are being introduced and changing daily workflow. Now more than ever, the contracting community needs ways to keep the workforce trained on tried and true processes of this profession as well as get up to speed on emerging technologies and tactics. Luckily, an organization exists to do just this.

The National Contract Management Association (NCMA) celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2019 but with the industry pressures detailed above they have no plans of slowing down. The group brought in a new CEO in 2018 to lead their growth and support for members. Kraig Conrad comes to NCMA with 20 years of association leadership and experience helping organizations evolve to meet changing member and market needs. Kraig took some time to share how NCMA is ramping up efforts to support contract professionals through their events and training. Continue reading