AI and cloud are changing agency missions

Data analytics 

Artificial Intelligence, cloud, on-demand technologies and data analytics are setting the stage for innovation at federal agencies, Stephen Goldsmith, director of Harvard University's Innovations in American Government Program, said at an April 25 workplace innovations event at the National Academy of Public Administration.

"It's a very exciting time" for innovation in government, said Goldsmith, the former Indianapolis mayor. "You can't have innovation without digitization," he said.

The flood of data being made available by government can be fuel for innovation, he said, but only if it is properly managed and interpreted. Most importantly, predictive analytics of that data, he said, can ferret out where government agencies fall short in public-facing services. "Linking data and employees and results," he said, "can focus on an agency's mission."

AI and robotics, he added, are force multipliers for everyday mission.

In breakout sessions at the event on innovation techniques, the growing importance of those technologies, as well as cloud were apparent.

One former federal government employee said software-as-a-service applications had allowed her agency's IT workers offload tedious data-entry tasks. Outsourcing those duties to SaaS allowed those employees to step up to the jobs they were hired to do. Another federal manager said AI and robotic processing automation have become a welcome force at her agency to reduce time-consuming repetitive tasks.

Data is critical to spurring practical effective innovation at government agencies. But deriving real intelligence from data requires context and focus, Goldsmith and others said.

Sharon Kershbaum, chief operating officer in the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services, pointed to a program developed by her agency to help unemployed residents connect with jobs. The program, driven by data input on job openings, was initially successful. However, six months after it began, those same successful job seekers were back looking for work because their new jobs were in areas they couldn't easily get to or because day care for their children hadn't been factored into the placement.

The program, said Kershbaum, didn't look at the reality of what its users were facing.

"You have to convince staff that they didn't always know what was best for the customer," she said. A deeper look from the customers' perspective would have shed light on their goals. Innovating for users, she said, "is not just about following the data."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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