Agencies are pushing ahead on various IT modernization efforts all the time. But how do they actually make those initiatives successful, and what are the technologies that will have the most impact?
Agencies that have embraced technology change are already starting to see the benefit of disruptive models to deliver their missions and better outcomes in new ways, according to Accenture Federal Services’ “Federal Vision 2030” report.
“And they are creating more value for citizens and empowering employees with exciting new ways to serve,” the report says. “Other less agile agencies fall behind in applying the latest technologies and approaches to reimagine the mission and business. When this gap widens, public trust declines and workforce engagement drops — and external adversaries may stoke these instabilities.”
To be successful, IT leaders need to look to the future to understand the forces at work and consider how they will impact the agency, its customers and workforce. Agencies then need to create the conditions that “accelerate change and make (or create) opportunities to do things differently and more dynamically.”
Among the technologies that the report discusses that will have a significant impact on federal IT are data lakes, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Feds Can Transform Unstructured Data with Data Lakes
The report notes that agencies are expected to “explore how to make the most of the structured data they have amassed over the years along with exponentially growing volumes of unstructured data — such as images and video — to create new dimensions of insight.”
Dominic Delmolino, CTO of Accenture Federal Services, says that the volume of unstructured data agencies ingest is expected to outpace structured data, and that even a lot of structured data these days is machine generated (via sensors, for example).
To make sense of unstructured data, agencies will need to have some way to apply structure to it. For example, a speech-to-text tool can take sound files and put them into words that can be searched. Agencies that deal with insurance claims will likely be processing not just historical documents with text, but pictures taken from multiple angles.
Data lakes remain a viable way to tag and transform data, Delmolino says, and can let agencies apply structure to that data for a particular purpose when users need to do so.
Data lakes store data in its original format from its originating system, according to Delmolino. However, if a user wants to use the data and combine it with other systems’ data for a new purpose or for new insights, the user will then decide upon a new structure for the data. Data lakes give users the computing horsepower and space to create different versions of the data.
AI Helps Agencies Make Decisions More Efficiently
Moving forward, the report says, the quality of government decision-making will enhance citizens’ quality of life and government employees’ quality of work.
“Already, healthcare is emerging as an early win, with AI leveraging lifestyle factors to provide a more complete and evidence-based picture of health and preventative measures,” the report notes.
AI tools can look at electronic health record data and public social activity to identify potential candidates for counseling. And the Veterans Affairs Department is looking at this data to predict and prevent veteran suicides.
AI enables agencies to get decision-level information faster, which enables employees to act more quickly, the report adds. At first, according to Delmolino, AI tools will focus on low-impact, positive decisions, such as whether to send a password refresh email to a user who has forgotten a password. AI will also likely be involved in basic benefit adjudication decisions when it is obvious a benefit should be granted.
Agencies struggling with a large backlog of positive decisions may adopt AI at a faster pace, Delmolino says. “At agencies where it will have significant or potential lasting harm, they may go a little slower,” he says.
VR Will Aid in Training and Evaluations
Agencies are already using VR for training, including the Army and NASA. VR can also be used in licensing and to test users remotely, Delmolino says.
“If I am required to demonstrate a skill, can I demo that in a virtual space?” he says. “If I have the right technology to measure my body movements and render them in a virtual world, can I be certified to perform that activity?”
VR can help with anything where users are required demonstrate the ability to show a skill, such as performing in a dangerous environment.
VR can also be used for situations where agencies need to capture users’ facial expressions, since the technology might have a higher fidelity to pick up on body cues, Delmolino says.