Balanced Automation: Creating Operational Excellence Across Federal Agencies

By Avanti Patel, Business Unit General Manager   

During my 20+ years leading government agency contracts, teams, and initiatives, I have learned much about achieving excellence in the ever-evolving landscape of technology and government operations. And as a business unit leader at Octo, an IBM company, it has been my privilege to experience the transformative power of automation firsthand. Automation has the potential to revolutionize how government agencies operate, resulting in increased efficiency and productivity, making them better equipped to serve the nation.

Following are critical concepts that I’ve gathered over the years, specifically relating to the need for balanced automation within federal agencies and how using strategic implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) can achieve operational excellence.

Defining Balanced Automation

Government agencies are often tasked with a myriad of repetitive and time-consuming tasks that can be streamlined through automation. From data entry to document processing, these tasks not only consume valuable time and resources, but are also prone to human error. By harnessing the power of automation, agencies can significantly enhance their operational efficiency.

However, it’s important to recognize that the introduction of AI and automation in any sector can cause anxiety among staff. Many employees fear that automation may replace their jobs, leading to uncertainty and resistance to change.

Balanced automation means identifying tasks that can be automated through AI/ML without replacing human workers entirely. It requires a strategic approach to implementation that ensures staff remain a vital part of operations, while allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks that require creative thinking, problem-solving, and critical analysis. Strategic implementation is essential to address concerns that can derail a smooth transition.

Automation to Overcome Organizational Challenges

One significant barrier facing government agencies considering AI/ML as a solution to inefficiency is their cautious approach. This is often driven by concern over security, privacy, equity, and financial implications. While these concerns are valid, it is crucial they be assured that the benefits of AI/ML far outweigh the risks. Strategic implementation, backed by robust security measures, can help mitigate concerns and allow agencies to drastically improve operations, increase efficiency, and reduce cost.

The aging workforce presents another challenge federal agencies must grapple with. As a substantial portion of government employees near retirement age, there is a looming knowledge and experience gap agencies must prepare for. The loss of seasoned professionals who have accumulated years of expertise can impact institutional memory and the ability to navigate complex regulatory landscapes. Furthermore, recruiting new talent to replace retiring staff members can be a daunting task. Government agencies often face competition from the private sector, where technology companies and other industries offer enticing incentives and higher salaries, making it challenging to attract and retain top talent.

Balancing the transfer of knowledge from outgoing employees to incoming recruits while adapting to changing workforce demographics requires agencies to prepare for the inevitable knowledge gap. Automation can bridge this gap by handling routine tasks, enabling the remaining staff to concentrate on tasks that demand their expertise. Moreover, automation can create a more inclusive work environment by removing the physical demands associated with certain tasks, making it easier for individuals with disabilities or older employees to continue contributing to their agencies. But all of this requires strategic implementation.

Strategic Implementation in Action

Octo recently made a multimillion-dollar investment to solidify and enhance its commitment to providing innovative approaches to AI and ML operationalization. Our ML professionals have experience working with a variety of algorithms and modalities including computer vision, natural language processing, deep learning, and traditional ML (regression) on structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data. In addition, Octo helps federal customers implement these innovations through thoughtful, strategic AI/ML implementation with all levels of the organization.

One example is the way we implemented the Contract Acquisition Lifecycle Intelligence (CALI) tool, a secure, user friendly, automated ML evaluation solution built to streamline the evaluation of vendor proposals against the solicitation requirements to support the source selection process. CALI significantly reduces the acquisition workforce’s workload through AI/ML technology that continuously improves itself. By providing an automated compliance matrix, CALI saves the Contracting Officer and/or Contracting Specialist as much as 50% of the time needed to review proposals.

We have achieved success with CALI through careful planning, consistent communications, and regular revisiting of goals and objectives essential to strategic AI/ML implementation. CALI is an illustration of what balanced automation can look like.

Preparing for the Future

At Octo, we are committed to working strategically with government agencies to prepare for the future. My team accomplishes this by collaborating with government agencies. We conduct comprehensive assessments of our customers’ unique challenges and operational needs. This involves identifying areas where automation and AI/ML technologies can be optimally deployed to enhance efficiency and productivity while addressing staff concerns. We then tailor innovative solutions, like CALI, provide training and education, and foster a culture of continuous improvement by using Agile and other iterative methodologies. The goal is to ensure government agencies are equipped to navigate the evolving landscape and deliver improved services to the citizens they serve, all while staff is reassured.

The future extends beyond agencies, though. By implementing AI/ML in a balanced way, we have opened and continue to open numerous business opportunities for Octo. Our ability to scale and our partnership with government agencies allow us to develop tailored solutions that address their unique challenges across markets.

Moving Forward into Automation

My career has been marked by developing business strategies, managing multi-million-dollar initiatives, and optimizing processes within both government (federal, state, and local) and Fortune 500 organizations. It is clear the path to operational excellence for federal agencies lies in balanced automation. The government must overcome its reservations and embrace AI/ML technologies but in a thoughtful, strategic way. Doing so will enhance efficiency, address staff concerns, and improve the future for both the federal workforce and the people they serve.