COMMENTARY

5 AI trends that will change you and your customer

Over the past two years, the long-awaited promise of artificial intelligence for the federal government has started to become a reality. During this exciting time of technology evolution, there has been a lot of exploration, collaboration and information-sharing with industry.

Here are five key trends to watch for AI in the federal technology community this year:

AI contracts will continue to grow as adoption accelerates

Not long ago, AI solutions had to be subtly proposed as AI enabling “traditional” programs. This meant, as an example, offering a traditional service desk the opportunity to lean into AI by bringing intelligent automation, chatbots, or digital assistants to help automate some of the routine tasks of service desk personnel. By 2018, agencies started asking thoughtful questions in their RFIs about the application of AI. In 2019, there was a dramatic increase in the acquisition of AI with explicit requests for AI solutions in RFPs.

A search on Bloomberg Government shows the number of opportunities for artificial intelligence grew 61 percent, 100 percent, and 155 percent respectively each year since 2016. In addition, there has been a 600 percent increase in the number of opportunities valued at $100M or more. As the promise of these early contracts comes to fruition, it is clear that AI contracts will only continue to grow.

The digital divide will continue as early AI adopters grab their wins

It’s no secret that the federal procurement cycle is not for the faint of heart. From industry days, RFIs and pre-RFPs, to RFPs, protests and much more, it takes considerable time for emerging technologies to build enough steam to become mainstream offerings. While there is still a way to go, there is little evidence of waning interest in AI. Integrators who have not been in front of AI opportunities for the past few years will struggle to play catch up and gain the trust and support of customers in the public sector.

The good news is this divide will open the door for integrators who possess deep customer intimacy but lack AI offerings. A strong team offering that couples proven operational expertise in the customer setting with deep AI expertise is both prudent contracting and a winning solution for industry.

More advanced AI will be sought in 2020

To no one’s surprise, the federal government is typically a slow adopter of new technology. The conservative nature and risk aversion of government has played itself out with the purchase and adoption of AI solutions. For most agencies, entry into AI has come in the form of intelligent automation and supervised “bots” to handle repetitive, mundane tasks. Often AI proofs of concept and experimentations have created a sense of comfort and trust in the public sector.

Turning to 2020, we are seeing a strong desire from the government for more advanced “cognitive” AI solutions. Previously satisfied with rules-based systems, the government is now seeking cognitive learning systems. One great example of this has come in the form of AI application refactoring and software development. Only now, with the use of AI, is it possible to quickly and inexpensively migrate legacy applications (of which there are thousands in production at most agencies) to modern, optimized and secure code. The government’s overwhelming interest in this cognitive AI solution to an age-old problem demonstrates that while the ground was laid for AI using rules-based systems, the next phase of growth in AI will come from these advanced solutions.

OTAs accelerate AI procurement

We have seen a recent significant spike in Other Transaction Authority (OTA) requests for AI solutions. OTAs offer agencies a flexible method to access AI solutions from a wider variety of traditional and non-traditional companies.

Best used for proof of concepts and prototypes, OTAs expand the AI solutions available to agencies by allowing for rapid procurement of emerging technologies. As AI solutions change on a near-daily basis, it is becoming even more important to use agile procurement mechanisms like OTAs. To truly innovate using the best technology available, OTAs are becoming the path of choice for many agencies.

Time Is Our Enemy

The development of AI will become not just A priority for the United States, but THE priority. Our nation’s adversaries have already made AI their top priority. China is seeking to be the world leader in AI by 2030. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that whoever becomes the leader in AI will “become the ruler of the world.” With proclamations such as that, how can AI development be anything but the single biggest priority for the United States?

Risk aversion to AI acquisition not only limits AI adoption, it puts the U.S. at risk. In 2020, this risk will be further accentuated as time slips by. Thankfully, all indications show that public sector adoption in AI is increasing as our leaders recognize that AI has the potential to be the greatest workforce disruptor since the first industrial revolution.

AI is the single most transformative technology of our generation. 2020 will continue to reinforce its importance and compel faster development and adoption by the federal government. Using AI increases our effectiveness and productivity, reduces costs and enables us to meet more mission. We’re in the first inning of using AI to truly protect and support our nation and I remain incredibly optimistic about AI in the public sector in 2020.

About the Author

Brad Mascho serves as NCI Information Systems' chief artificial intelligence officer. He is responsible for leading a corporate division focused around artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives and strategy to accelerate, automate and augment repeatable processes for NCI’s customers, quickly turning data into actionable intelligence. Before joining NCI, Brad co-founded CrossChx, Inc., the industry leader in building meaningful AI that empowers and scales humans.

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