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GovCon Leaders Address AI Implementation Challenges During Expert Panel at Potomac Officers Club’s 2019 Artificial Intelligence Forum

Jeff Brody

Potomac Officers Club hosted the 2019 Artificial Intelligence Forum on Thursday to bring the GovCon leaders from the public and private sector together to discuss the latest initiatives and challenges that federal agencies and industry are facing as AI technology continues to develop at an incredible rate.

Following an opening keynote address from BG Matthew Easley, director of the Army Futures Command and the AI Task Force for the U.S. Army, an expert panel took to the stage to address the challenge of finding candidates and the education process, the impact AI is having on federal agencies’ workforce and culture and the process of creating your own innovation strategy for AI.

Early in the panel discussion, Ed Burrows, robotic process automation process manager of the U.S. General Services Administration, explained that people still need to be convinced about the importance of artificial intelligence. Despite the Army’s development of over 600 AI projects, a lot of people still need to be convinced and you still need to effectively prove the concept.

Burrows elaborated that there are questions of scale. In particular, most agencies are working towards process improvement and Burrows is intrigued by process analysis. He argued that every process should be looked at and optimized, but he also said that sometimes the expertise and the resources to begin that initial process don’t exist.

“In order to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, you need a team,” Burrows said. “You need people who can look at the process and ensure the proper steps are being taken. Most of the GSA processes that we have looked at have had to be optimized before automating,” he concluded.

Christine Gex, Innovation and RPA Lead for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Financial Information Management (DASA-FIM) at the U.S. Army, agreed with Burrows. She stated, “You can’t automate every process, but sometimes even automating sub-par processes helps us to see what steps need to be taken and gets people to better understand the RPA vision.”

Gex mentioned that many automations have already been developed but there is opportunity to take the automations beyond just RPA: “This is a launch pad for us to start focusing on how to modernize within the Federal space and be capable of supporting artificial intelligence,” she explained.

Brad Mascho, chief AI officer for NCI Information Systems, served as the panel’s moderator and questioned if there has been a cultural shift in federal agencies. Chezian Sivagnanam, the chief enterprise architect of the National Science Foundation, expressed that the culture continues to change and his organization has created its own strategy to manage the significant cultural shift.

Sivagnanam also shared that his focus was to start a community of practice to educate teams from other federal agencies and share information to build on their own. There are bi-weekly meetings to show how his own department and others can improve, build their own bots and new platforms and show how there’s an established process. Sivagnanam elaborated that technology often moves forward, but the people fall behind. The focus is for users to be able to build for themselves eventually.

Potomac Officers Club will host the 2019 Secure Supply Chain Forum on July 18th at the 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, Va. During the forum, GovCon and industry leaders from the public and private sectors will discuss how federal agencies protect, defend and secure supply chains from susceptible threats and the challenges that arise as technology becomes more fundamental.

Register for the 2019 Secure Supply Chain Forum right here.

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