Jul 08 2021

How Will Federal Agencies Make Use of AI-Infused ‘Superteams’?

Artificial intelligence and automation will become a more integral part of how work gets done in government, according to a recent Deloitte report.

As federal agencies prepare for a shift to long-term hybrid work, they are also poised to undergo another transformation, according to a recent report. Feds are about to get another teammate in their cubicles and home offices, and its name is AI.

According to Deloitte’s “2021 Human Capital Trends” report, one of the key trends to watch is agencies’ incorporation of artificial intelligence agents and functions more directly into the work of human teams. These AI-infused “superteams” are primed to provide more efficiency to federal workers, according to Deloitte. However, agency heads and IT leaders will need to undertake long-term efforts to both reskill employees and change their organizational cultures to better incorporate AI tools.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many public sector organizations accelerated incorporating technology into their team structure as a survival strategy to enable adaptability and speed,” the report says. “Leaders can use what they have learned to construct superteams that pair people with technology to re-architect work in more human ways and accomplish more together.”

John Forsythe, a managing director in the federal organizational transformation service line of Deloitte Consulting, says the pandemic has forced the government to question basic assumptions about where, when and how work happens. Employees’ preferences about the best work setups for them weren’t always considered pre-pandemic, but now are much more important and need to be taken more into consideration by leaders, he says.

That means that human workers may not want to be stuck with what Forsythe calls the “dirty, dangerous and dull work” of government. That’s where superteams come in.

What Can AI-Infused Superteams Enable for Agencies?

Historically, government work has often involved a significant amount of data entry, transaction processing and report compilation, Forsythe notes. Superteams revolve around the idea that an AI-infused element working more closely alongside or within a team can help human workers automate those tasks so that humans can “do the analysis, problem-solving, higher-level advisory and customer service,” work, Forsythe says. That work is “mission value-added, more meaningful and engaging to them,” he notes.

“When teams dedicate people to focus on the innately human work and relegate automatable work to technology, organizations can both improve the employee experience by allowing people to focus on interesting and meaningful work, while increasing overall productivity and depth of insights,” the Deloitte report states.

Robotic process automation and AI-based tools “must be introduced in a manner that complements the employee experience,” the report notes, adding that “Hybrid teams must be led by human intelligence, critical thinking, and nuanced decision-making, and also include a spectrum of technical support that manages tasks, analytics, or workflow in tandem with the human element.”

Superteams are essentially an expanded and more intentional use of RPA tools, according to Forsythe. Increased efficiency should be a factor in this movement, but so should improving employee experience, according to Deloitte.

“No human anywhere, by the end of this decade, will need to be doing data entry,” Forsythe says.

Superteams, though not dubbed as such, are already in place at many agencies. For example, at the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency Farm Loan Program, workers there are taking increased advantage of AI tools to advance their mission.

John Forsythe, Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting
No human anywhere, by the end of this decade, will need to be doing data entry.”

John Forsythe Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting

The program helps farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and its territories get farm loans to buy property or support operations. The pandemic and market volatility pose challenges to farmers and ranchers, and FLP officers need to spend less time completing administrative activities, which could enable them to focus on advising borrowers and completing analytical tasks.

To alleviate administrative workload for FLP’s more than 1,200 employees, a team of field and national office staff created three automations, nicknamed Penny, Joy and Jerry, to complete loan-making and loan-servicing tasks. Since their deployment in 2020, according to Deloitte, these bots are returning thousands of hours annually to employees to focus more on customers.

The bots have automated more than 7,000 promissory note forms, more than 8,000 loan approval and borrower responsibilities letters, and more than 8,000 application completion notices. The bots “reduce errors, provide auditability, eliminate the need for peer review and return valuable time to loan officers,” according to Deloitte.

RELATED: What is the state of government competency around artificial intelligence?

How Agency Cultures Will Need to Change to Support More AI Tools

Government agencies are “thinking through the continual evolution of automation, and how new technology can be infused into work,” the Deloitte report notes. “The existence of superteams raises critical questions for leadership: how does work get completed, how can people and technology work together to optimize outputs, and how does the employee experience get reshaped to focus on high value strategic work?”

Forsythe says that old habits will need to be addressed and workers will need to be pushed out of their comfort zones, not just by those whose titles put them in leadership roles but by leaders and innovators within the employee ranks at an agency.

“Superteams have yet to take hold as a widespread organizational strategy within the public sector, in part because many organizations still tend to view technology as a tool and enabler rather than as a team member and collaborator,” Deloitte acknowledges in the report.

“Public sector leaders must shift their thinking to view new advancements in technology as a way to augment human capabilities instead of purely a substitution for manual labor,” the report adds.

Leaders should promote classroom-based learning to reskill employees on analytical and higher-value work and also support telework-based learning and microlearning modules that enable employees to learn skills and then quickly apply them, Forsythe says. However, he notes, employees must be willing and motivated to learn new skills.

“With each implementation, leaders should consider how the existing team can modify their work to focus on the strategic and decision-making elements that will round out the transactional work that was automated,” the report notes. “The use of technology and people is not an ‘either-or’ choice but a ‘both-and’ partnership.”

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