Digital Transformation Takes Agency Missions to the Next Level

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From better data to artificial intelligence, government leaders will need to rethink the possible as cloud and other technologies rocket agency capabilities into the future.

As government agencies look to deliver ever-more impactful and efficient citizen services, data can shine a light on what operational changes can help pave a path forward. But oftentimes, data is collected and simply put away in a file.

Brett McMillen, director and general manager of the federal civilian sales team for Amazon Web Services (AWS), thinks it’s time that agencies put that data to work.

“Through digital transformation, government agencies are beginning to turn to cloud and other best-of-breed technologies in order to make better use of their datasets, taking the data from something that’s stored to data that is now impactful to agencies and citizens, and can be shared with the public and across agencies and local governments,” says McMillen.

McMillen works with agencies across the government spectrum on their digital transformation initiatives and has seen firsthand the impact that effective tools can have as agencies seek to transform data from raw information to actionable insights.

Citizens and Agency Staff Reap the Benefits of Digital Transformation

Oftentimes, citizens are able to directly benefit from an agency’s digital transformation initiatives. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, for example, tapped cloud to better understand how its funding was being used and whether treatment was reaching the correct people, in particular for the vulnerable populations covered under Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program.

“In the past, what was happening was that CMS was providing that funding and they had the data for the states that the funding was going to, but the understanding about how it was being distributed ended there,” explains McMillen. “So, we worked with CMS to pull all of that data together, and today with all of that information, they can now answer questions that they never could before, such as how many pregnant women are getting the right prenatal care. They’re able to look at whether or not the right people are obtaining mental health coverage, or whether those that need opioid treatment have access to the funding they need to obtain it. Taking that data that was out there and pulling it together via digital transformation allows them to better serve these citizens.”

Cloud is a central aspect of what’s making these transformations possible for government agencies.

“In a few minutes, the average agency can now spin up things and get access to things that they never could have done quickly before. And so, what we're seeing is organizations are able to iterate their applications and iterate their workloads much faster, ultimately delivering to the citizens much quicker,” says McMillen.

McMillen points to Citizen Immigration Services as another example, an agency that needs to process large amounts of information for citizens each day. In order to improve and expedite processes, CIS has tapped cloud to implement a DevOps environment and regularly, almost daily, according to McMillen, rolls out new code aimed at improving operations and better serving citizens.

The cloud is also helping to set the stage for future initiatives, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, says McMillen.

“It used to be that machine learning was expensive and agencies required a specialized workforce of data scientists and others in order to implement it,” says McMillen. But new products, like Amazon SageMaker, make it possible for software developers without specialized skills to implement and maintain impactful machine learning initiatives for agencies.

Already, government organizations are putting machine learning to use to improve citizen experiences. In Colorado, for example, a Congressman whose staff was overwhelmed with the need to transcribe each constituent call, participated in a pilot of a machine learning tool on AWS that automatically transcribed calls. The result was that it cut the time necessary to transcribe by a full minute per call, a number that amounted to more than 20 hours of staff time during the 16-day pilot.

“Now the staff can actually focus on serving the citizens,” says McMillen.

As digital transformation initiatives take hold, however, and new tools and capabilities are introduced, it won’t be a simple task for government leaders to ensure they’re putting the tools to work effectively.

“Those in the federal government are passionate about serving citizens. But what we see when we work with agencies to give them access to all of these technologies is that we have to work even closer within the program areas to reimagine the ways that they can deliver on their missions,” says McMillen. “So, the biggest challenge is that we need to expand our imagination to understand and constantly rethink how we can use these tools effectively and in new, interesting ways to better serve the citizen.”

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