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Using Technology to Transform National Security Organizations – MeriTalk

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Through the President’s Management Agenda Vision, the government has put the spotlight on federal agency customer service. Fortunately, as government agencies modernize their information technology (IT), they can adopt technological solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to transform the customer experience.

MeriTalk interviewed James Bench, Senior Principal at Maximus, and John Mandell, Managing Director of Maximus’ National Security Practice, to discuss how technology is impacting federal agencies, especially those with a national security focus. I learned how I can give the customer service edge.

Meritoke: The President’s management agenda vision seeks to make customer service a priority across government. What steps do you think federal agencies are taking so far to plan the customer journey and improve the customer experience?

James Bench: Design-based thinking is increasingly being adopted. Some institutions employ user interface/user experience experts to do human-centered design, case studies, and usability testing. By implementing human-centered design, we no longer need a two-page Office of Management and Budget (OMB) form and ten-page instructions to collect the right data. The experience is becoming as intuitive as the commercial customer experience.

John Mandel: Modernization can improve the user experience and create a foundation for building that customer-centric design. This has become a major focus for governments today. Agencies need to develop a customer experience vision and make sure it’s embedded throughout software development and deployment, not just during the discovery and design stages.

Meritoke: We tend to think of modernization in terms of big fixes, but it’s more nuanced than that. For example, the IT Operations Plan connects data, technology, solutions, and cybersecurity in an effort to deliver a modern government. What are the elements of a successful modernization process?

Mandel: If you are just beginning your journey, it is important to understand your needs and vision for IT system modernization. One of the foundational elements of modernization is the cloud. This is a new modern architecture that enables flexible and agile development methods, automated deployment, release management, and built-in security and monitoring. Government agencies also require readily available, high-quality data. Data sharing and governance help extend agency data and leverage it for advanced analytics.

Meritoke: Overall, how is the emerging technology landscape changing and how is it impacting the modernization efforts of federal agencies?

bench: Modernizing government applications often means breaking monolithic applications into smaller functional components across multiple servers. Implementing microservices is a big part of modernization. Government agencies need technology stacks that enable them to deploy and update applications with greater agility. It also means he doesn’t have to wait five years for agencies to reap the benefits of modernization. Instead, you can roll out your application in stages, replacing monolithic functionality.

Automation is also a game changer. This allows for automatic recovery if the service goes down, creating several layers of automatic healing before you have to call someone at 3am for a service outage. This is especially valuable around infrastructure. Using technology to automate manual administrative processes across cloud and on-premises infrastructure is a huge benefit for staff. Automation helps you support and provision resources and efficiently deploy security patches to keep your environment secure.

Mandel: I agree with James that automation is playing a leading role in modernization, realizing that agencies can be more efficient in their processes and customer interactions. Agencies are identifying opportunities to use technologies such as robotic process automation and AI, employing data science and visualization to drive new insights. They rely on companies like Maximus to drive automation across Federation missions. For example, we provided hyper-automation solutions to several Department of Homeland Security (DHS) customers.

Meritoke: What role will AI play in modernization? How can AI and machine learning (ML) transform the way government agencies manage operations and deliver customer service?

bench: AI and ML models are now a part of everyday life, even though many people don’t realize it. Maximus is helping agencies harness AI in several different ways. For example, large contact centers are building chat he bots that can do more than provide simple answers to simple questions. You can also generate events, initiate tickets to be processed later, and manage simple functions of account management.

AI can also help with adjudication, the process of evaluating an individual’s application for government programs and services. Depending on the amount of information required, the evaluator will either accept or reject and proceed to the next step.

For example, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a huge backlog of work to process and uses ML models to adjudicate green card applications. Once data is checked out, ML can quickly process 70% of applications without human intervention. The remaining 30% must be handled manually.

Maximus also works with USCIS to manage identities. Who is that person and how do you connect all the dots that person had with the United States? increase.

Meritoke: Enterprise collaboration, sharing, and support are often required across government agencies. Where are we seeing progress in this area and how can modernization help?

Mandel: Modernization doesn’t just happen at one institution. Multiple agencies must work together for a common mission. For immigration and border enforcement, for example, digital solutions add value to their mission, enabling information sharing between USCIS, immigration and customs enforcement, and customs and border enforcement. This has implications for the work being done on the southern border and the president’s immigration policy.

Collaboration is also key to cybersecurity. When cyber experts discover signs of an attack, they need to prevent it and share their findings with other agencies. Maximus makes it possible not only for DHS, but also for federal health and financial services. His one of our best practices is communication between agencies. This is not always easy, but it has turned into a reproducible skill set.

Meritoke: Can you talk about Maximus’ modernization approach to DevSecOps and how it enables customers to modernize faster with less risk?

bench: Maximus consults and provides services for government consumption. Cloud adoption and automation are built into the stack. Achieving the desired result usually requires combining different sets of tools. Each time you do it, it takes different expertise to put all those pieces together. Agencies don’t always have that kind of talent.

Maximus has developed a technique that puts an abstraction layer on top of that complex technology. This will allow you to do some basic configuration and everything will be built. We do it ourselves to be efficient and to make sure the standards and quality of our processes are consistent across everything deployed. Maximus is beginning to use his set of knowledge and skills developed for himself in federal consulting services.

Meritoke: How does Maximus put customer experience first and how does that set Maximus apart?

Mandel: Maximus is focused on the customer and the ultimate game impact. What are the achievements that support the mission? What ingredients are they serving? What are the consequences that benefit citizens?

We take a solutions consulting approach to our user experience and design process. When building, we want the most user-centric and intuitive design, adding new technologies to help our users achieve their mission. We help agencies fill that gap. So it’s not just about the front end, it’s about the overall approach to the enterprise as well.

From the kickoff call to implementation, we are asking questions from a usability and user perspective. You are not locked into one set of solutions. We are always evaluating what new technologies we can introduce.

Meritoke: Based on your experience at DHS, what do you see as the future of IT modernization across national security organizations?

Mandel: We are always helping agencies look to the future. DHS, for example, is one of the most technologically advanced sectors, and it’s only going to accelerate. You can see the focus on enhancing the digital experience for her DHS users, both internal and external.

Once DHS moves most of certain areas to the cloud, those areas will be able to modernize faster than others. So the future will be more modern, not only in terms of user experience, but also in the information sharing capabilities of DHS. DHS can share information among federal partners and increase transparency across national security agencies. DHS is well positioned to ensure that the right data is available, along with good governance around data sharing with the right parties, such as law enforcement and the Department of State.