EMERGING TECH

Get ready, the robots are coming

The same phenomenon that has swept through the retail and manufacturing industries in recent decades seemingly looms over government also: the robots are coming.

Indicators of that shift toward greater automation can be seen in where some agencies are looking to buy technologies in an effort to shift time and resources away from maintenance and toward more mission-specific functions. Automation was a frequently-discussed technology category to watch in March at the annual immixGroup Government IT Sales Summit.

Automated tools such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning have also become a core focus for CSRA in its push to become the federal government’s leading technology integrator as “Customer Zero” for agencies. That move will lead to cuts in human jobs and responsibilities in government at a similar path seen in commercial industries, CSRA executives said Wednesday at their latest Emerging Technology Day event in Falls Church, Va.

“If you put a stake in the ground now and look at it in a time dimension now, job loss might be a concern but step back and look at the industry revolution. This phenomenon has taken place over the last 100 years,” Chief Technology Officer Yogesh Khanna told a media roundtable.

“Technologies have come and taken jobs away but that has created new jobs, new opportunities to do things in a different way. How people transform their careers and how we do that as an industry is what excites a lot of us.”

For the government and the Pentagon in particular, CEO Larry Prior called the Trump administration’s focus on technologies such as automation platforms and other methods to manage certain back office functions as in the “first inning.”

Both the Office of Management and Budget and Defense Secretary James Mattis have started initiatives to look at how they can capture savings from back office functions to re-invest funds in research-and-development or even pay raises for employees.

“There are absolutely great technology tools to do that today. That is a great lever and enabler but that pales compared to the challenges of culture, change management and how you affect that over time,” Prior said.

CSRA’s third Emerging Technology Day event continues the IT services contractor’s efforts to strike partnerships with smaller companies that make new and emerging technologies. This latest forum hosted eight companies with at least three touting AI-related offerings they seek to bring into the federal marketplace.

Be Informed presented a cognitive reasoning platform it says can help with complex regulatory applications and automated knowledge work. IPsoft showcased its “Amelia” digital employee platform that works to automate responses to citizen requests and social services. Neva highlighted an artificial intelligence system it designed to automate self-service functions for customers with IT issues.

“Instead of a help desk with a human, it’s a super-aided robotic capability that you’ll be working off your phone really quick and really easy and you’ll be satisfied,” Prior said. “But you’re going to eliminate tier-one and tier-two support. You’ll have better tier-three support with all sorts of data feeding it.”

The changes in work have happened “immensely fast” for commercial businesses, Prior said as he described the general effects of ServiceNow cloud implementation projects. Companies that have chosen ServiceNow have seen “tremendous savings” from those projects, according to Prior.

“It’s not like we don’t have a thousand jobs open today but they’re different kinds of jobs,” Prior said.

In a January report, McKinsey Global Institute estimates almost half of current work activities could be automated by 2055 depending on costs, labor rates and macroeconomic factors.

The increased focus on automation to manage IT at agencies coincides with a push by some military organizations to also look at similar tools. For example, Raytheon is contracted to build an automated tool to assess kinetic weapons for the Missile Defense Agency that also has analytics and cyber functions.

CSRA has hosted three technology days since its November 2015 launch. The first took place in August 2016 with 11 companies as participants and the second occurred three months later with eight companies.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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