Making sense of the emerging technologies that promise to have a real impact.
Car owners understand the importance of wheel alignment. Keeping tires in alignment helps them perform better, minimizes wear and tear, and spares drivers from unnecessary repair expenses.
The same applies to the federal government. Often, federal organizations fail to optimize productivity, enhance operational effectiveness and minimize costs. With the daily responsibilities of social, political and economic pressures on federal employees, it is difficult to collaborate and focus staff on the mission at hand.
With about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day, government technology leaders have rightfully been focused on how to collect, aggregate, cleanse, analyze and make use of all that information. Then comes the question of data retention. It is a Herculean task, and one that vexes the private sector as well. Data quality, integration and analytical tools have exploded over the past few years. Emerging technologies can alleviate some of these issues.
As agencies begin wrapping their arms around big data, they will also need to embrace other innovations for better mission optimization. Here are five emerging technologies every federal agency should watch for:
1. Artificial Intelligence
Cognitive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and its subcategory of machine learning help automate repeatable work, recognize repeatable patterns and recommend optimal solutions, allowing staff to focus on more mission-critical tasks.
While AI has been all the rage in both the private and public sectors the last few years, we have only started to scratch the surface of its possibilities. A recent Deloitte survey found 63 percent of public sector respondents believe AI will have some impact on their workforces by 2020. Yet only 31 percent of government agencies are using it today.
Deloitte says AI could save hundreds of millions of staff hours and billions of dollars annually with an appropriate level of investment in the technology, and could free up 30 percent of government worker time within five to seven years. While deployment has been slow to this point, the benefits of cognitive technologies for mission optimization are too great to ignore, leading some lawmakers to suggest the government needs to “urgently speed its adoption of AI.”
Many government leaders and legislators probably know blockchain as the enabling technology behind cryptocurrency. But the technology can also serve as a way of sharing and validating information among various departments, faster and more securely than ever.
Blockchain is a distributed database. Gartner defines blockchain as an expanding list of cryptographically signed, irrevocable transactional records shared by all participants in a network. Each record contains a time stamp and references links to previous transactions. There are flexible and various ways to implement blockchain. The value of this technology or tool is that it enables secure movement of information between agencies in an agile manner without having to re-enter data. Government agencies are considering it for this type of efficiency improvement. For instance, this year the Office of Personnel Management issued a request for information for an employee digital record solution, which was seen as a move to use blockchain for managing employee digital records. Other agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration are launching blockchain projects, suggesting the technology could gain a larger foothold in government. The Joint Chiefs of Staffs have conducted an experiment in logistics using the technology,
3. Quantum Information Science
In September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to authorize an investment of more than $1.2 billion in one of the most intriguing and powerful innovations being explored today: quantum information science. The Senate and White House are supporting the QIS investment.
QIS includes multiple factions of applications using quantum properties of particles or ions to manipulate information. This includes quantum sensors, quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, hybrid computers and even quantum computers. QIS is the next major technological revolution, where quantum characteristics such as particle entanglement and superposition will be used to produce exponentially more powerful computational systems, significantly more secure encryption and enhanced sensors that far exceed what they are today. Through one QIS application, quantum computing, the amount of information that can be processed instantaneously could lead to breakthroughs in drug development, cancer treatment and in information security.
A Space Race rivalry is forming between the U.S., China and other economic powerhouses to lead the way with research into this technology. Its potential for radically accelerating mission optimization cannot be overlooked.
Another global race is on to be the first country to have an effective strategy for the widespread implementation of 5G cellular networks. U.S. carriers plan to begin staged deployments of the technology this year, while China is aiming for nationwide rollout by 2020. South Korea and Japan are also vying for 5G global leadership.
So what does this mean for government agencies? 5G will enable workers to communicate and share much more information, faster with far less lag time. They will be able to connect more internet of things devices and sensors and enable the communications necessary for autonomous vehicles and smart city infrastructure.
Of course, adoption will depend on the emergence of 5G capable devices and the build-out of nationwide 5G networks. But investment is already underway, and government agencies should already begin strategizing about how they will put the technology to use.
5. Endpoint Security
Nothing will hamper mission optimization more than a disruptive cybersecurity incident. Yet many government agencies are at risk of being attacked because they are still applying yesterday’s countermeasures to today’s problems.
Hackers will invariably attack the points of the weakest link – the soft underbellies of networks. With organizations doing a better job of fortifying their network perimeters, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting endpoints, such as desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and network printers. According to the 2018 Government Cybersecurity Report from Security ScoreCard, the government sector is second to last among U.S. industries in securing endpoint devices. Unsurprisingly, more than half of agency IT officials worry about cyberattacks from endpoint devices.
All device manufacturers are aware of this situation, and some have made significant strides building optional security features into the hardware of their endpoint devices. As cyberattacks continue to grow in frequency, complexity and severity, you should expect to see more government agencies embrace these options as they continue down the path of mission optimization.
These emerging technologies are providing government agencies with the ability to completely reimagine how they operate. It will take time before all of them are mature enough for widespread deployment, but agency leaders should begin investing time and funding now to optimize their current operations.