Dec 12 2019

4 Federal Technology Trends to Watch for in 2020

AI in cybersecurity, 5G, RPA and blockchain are expected to be among the key elements of government IT modernization next year.

Federal IT had quite a busy year in 2019. The Federal CIO’s office issued new policies around cloud migration, the Trusted Internet Connections program and a federal data strategy

Federal CIO Suzette Kent argues that those policy updates will set agencies up for success in 2020 and beyond as they continue to modernize their technology environments.

Many of the policies have protocols embedded within them for the government to “stay very close to the industry and provide for continuous updates,” Kent told FedTech in October. For example, the TIC policy has a provision for a unit to continuously evaluate new solutions with the Department of Homeland and Security and the Office of Management and Budget to “reach the same security objectives but use different technology solutions.”

As 2020 dawns, trends that have been building in the world of federal IT modernization are likely to accelerate in certain areas. A recent study conducted by the Government Business Council for SAP found that 83 percent of employees across local, state and federal governments believe that citizens expect more from government agencies than they did five years ago. 

“In 2020, digital transformation and tech adoption in the public sector is going to be driven by this demand to better serve constituents,” says Brian Roach, senior vice president and managing director for regulated industries at SAP.

“National governments face ongoing IT challenges such as expensive legacy systems and outdated datacenters,” IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide National Government 2020 Predictions survey states. “However, citizen needs continue to stoke expectations for improved government performance, which, in turn, drives new investments. New investment is also being driven by the awareness of upcoming and ongoing disruptive change and the need to deal with emerging issues related to digital trusts, 5G development, the use and misuse of artificial intelligence (AI), and more.”

Indeed, AI and predictive analytics in cybersecurity, 5G network technology and robotic process automation are going to be some of the key trends to watch in 2020. Here’s what to watch for next year. 

VIDEO: What are the seldomly asked questions around emerging tech? 

1. Cybersecurity Will Grow More Sophisticated with AI

Cybersecurity is a perennial concern for agencies and will continue to be in 2020, especially as the election season gets into full swing, ransomware remains a worry and phishing attacks persist.

That’s why agencies are tentatively turning to AI and predictive analytics tools to help with their cybersecurity

“The biggest impact we’ve seen of the AI, especially in our cyber operations, is it can look at millions and millions of logs of what’s going on in SBA at the second-by-second description,” Small Business Administration Deputy CIO Guy Cavallo told FedTech in October

Deloitte Insights’ “Government Trends 2020” report notes that “predictive analytics can sift through a large set of data to identify malicious code, anomalous patterns, and network threats to help predict cyberattacks.”

That allows agencies to be more proactive instead of reactive, Deloitte notes. In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit venture capital arm of the U.S. intelligence community, invested in Cylance, a company that uses AI-backed technologies to detect and prevent cyberthreats, the report notes. “Cylance uses AI to determine which file is safe, which is malicious, and then works to neutralize malicious files before an attack can be executed,” the report states. 

Shawn McCarthy, director of research at IDC Government Insights (and one of FedTech’s 30 Federal IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2019), notes that “AI for pattern recognition and early identification of attacks is a potential growth area going forward.”

Still, not everyone is convinced, and federal IT leaders are being cautious about diving into AI for cybersecurity too quickly. “I have yet to find a product or service” in the AI and machine learning area for security applications “that lets me sleep better at night,” Transportation Department CIO Ryan Cote said at a recent conference, MeriTalk reports

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how agencies can use deep learning.

2. Network Modernization Will Continue with 5G, SDN

The General Services Administration’s $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions network modernization contract is designed to let agencies modernize their networks, especially via technologies such as software-defined networking and 5G wireless networks, and replaces the existing Networx contract. 

Agencies had been required to transition away from the Networx contracting vehicle to EIS by the spring of 2020. However, in December 2018, the GSA extended the deadline to 2023 to give agencies more time to switch.

On March 31, 2020, the GSA will limit the use of the extended contracts for agencies that have not made task order awards. More agencies are expected to issue task orders under the contract by then. 

Agencies are expected to begin moving toward initial deployments of 5G networks in 2020 and will likely begin to set up contracts that will lead to network modernizations. 

“The importance will be amplified down the road,” McCarthy notes. “Few people need 5G today, but as they do, having this resource readily available — some of the carriers have said they will offer it — makes EIS a solid resource.” 

Kent told FedTech that agencies “need that modern infrastructure to be able to move more quickly.” 

As agencies deploy more Internet of Things sensors to collect data and use edge computing, “we need a network infrastructure that is far more resilient, more modern and we can advance more quickly,” she said. 

IDC expects 5G will enable agencies to more readily deploy augmented and virtual reality solutions, autonomous vehicles, remote patient monitoring capabilities and more. “Technology innovations in a 5G ecosystem need to pass not only technical tests but also the soundness of their strategic purpose that’s supported by viable operational models,” IDC states. “Having a partner that’s experienced in delivering both these requirements is critical.” 

VIDEO: Find out how the GSA is helping agencies modernize technology. 

3. Automation Tools Will Save Time and Money

Around 1.3 billion hours can potentially be freed up through the use of automation in the federal government, according to Peter Viechnicki and William D. Eggers of Deloitte

Robotic process automation, or RPA, is a very hot technology several agencies are implementing. It’s also being encouraged by the Office of Management and Budget, which in 2018 issued a memo that directed agencies to shift resources to higher-value activities, in part by introducing technologies like RPA. 

RPA allows organizations to automate certain tasks — often repetitive and tedious work that users shouldn’t spend much time doing. RPA instead lets agencies complete these tasks with higher throughput rates, fewer errors and less reliance on outside contractors. As the GSA’s Robotic Process Automation Community of Practice matures, expect to see more agencies use the technology as they learn from one another. 

IDC predicts that by 2023, 25 percent of governments will begin processing citizen services in real time, leveraging better customer intelligence and robotic process automation. “However, process rationalization, organizational change, and data protection must be addressed before the benefits of technologies like RPA and machine learning can be fully harnessed,” the IDC study states.

Kent said that as the government looks at how it uses the breadth of automation technology, those efforts are linked to the government’s data strategy. Tools like RPA work well “when the data that is used with them is high quality and has all of the right mature protocols in place.”

The Federal CIO Council will likely continue to work with agencies to test RPA in pilots to inform a new policy around automation

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how your agency can successfully migrate data to modern architectures. 

4. Emerging Technologies Such as Blockchain Will Get More Mature

More agencies will use blockchain technology in 2020 as the value of the distributed ledger system begins to become more apparent.

“Blockchain is moving more mainstream. So, it will expand,” McCarthy says. “It will become more transparent too, with multiple cloud offerings that can just be called as needed. There will be more blockchain. There will be less talking about blockchain.

The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to refine its use of blockchain and AI to enhance procurement. The Food and Drug Administration is pursuing blockchain solutions to identify the sources of food safety issues. And Customs and Border Protection is exploring how blockchain could facilitate lawful international trade across U.S borders.

Fifth Domain reports that the Defense Information Systems Agency thinks blockchain could be useful “in the logistics realm with data set sharing, simplifying database management by removing the need for a centralized database access.”

USCapitol/Flickr, Creative Commons

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