Think about technology from a restaurant perspective – every Federal agency is a pizzeria, providing citizens with one service. The goal – pivot from pizzeria to GrubHub – allowing citizens to identify essential technology, while agencies serve as the enabler, or “delivery service.” Being a positive digital disruptor will enhance the customer experience, IT experts said Feb. 3 during MeriTalk’s Power of Prediction: Federal IT Operations Management (ITOM) webinar.

Modernized ITOM capabilities are at the heart of improving the Federal government’s ability to better serve citizens, according to recent research findings from MeriTalk. While 84 percent of Federal IT managers agreed with that sentiment, most – 70 percent – said the government’s shift to widescale telework in early 2020 brought ITOM challenges to the forefront.

Max Aronin, Director of ITx Emerging Solutions at ServiceNow, said during the Feb. 3 webinar that the pandemic’s disruptive impact on Federal IT operations has sped up the IT modernization pace at many agencies. That pressure to modernize has, in turn, accelerated interest and activity in digitization and automation.

“The service side and the operations side” have been “coming together to really start figuring out how they tap into the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help them get predictive instead of reactive,” Aronin said. Another emerging customer theme, he said, is “around service resilience” and using automation to drive increased resilience at the same time as network operators are adopting more modern practices.

Beth Killoran, deputy CIO at the General Services Administration (GSA) and former CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seconded those sentiments on the increased pace of IT modernization at Federal agencies, and the need to focus more sharply on citizen service.

“Two of the most important things that we’re working on is the customer experience – changing it from business process to customer experience changes the way we think about things,” she said.

“And then,” Killoran continued, “that whole capability on the back end – which is data analytics – not looking in the rearview mirror for what has happened, but being predictive as much as possible so that we can better position our agency for the needs of other Federal agencies and what services we need to put in place now, so that we are ready for their needs in the future, especially as they evolve.”

“We know within the last year that some things are going to be very disruptive, and we have to change very quickly,” she added.

Cutting Through the Noise

When asked how ServiceNow customers are using AI and machine learning (ML) to move from a reactive to a predictive stance, Aronin replied that “all of these practices are really converging, and this is where we’re seeing customers really rethinking their processes in terms of how to leverage AI and ML, and specifically moving first from this notion of reactive incident management to really embracing alert management as kind of the first stop.”

“The operations side has been managing alerts for quite some time, so that’s nothing new. But really this is where on the service side, we’re being able to really align between service operations to say, ‘we’re going to update our process to start looking at alerts first because as soon as you do that, and the customers have done that, that opens up a lot of possibilities to really get in front of those things.’”

“As soon as you start looking at alerts, it’s really about the machine data that’s coming in, and the problem then you have to solve is really that noise suppression – you have too much noise and too many signals coming in,” he said.

“Machines are really good at that. They can correlate things, and based on topology, they can look at timeframe and really figure out if things are happening,” he said, adding, “We’ve seen customers driving upwards of 99 percent noise suppression using these practices.” Getting a handle on noise suppression, Aronin said, greatly increases the ability to detect anomalies that can represent more serious problems.

Fed Tech Outlook

Killoran said GSA moved to 100 percent telework very quickly based on previous technology investments, including AI and ML platforms that are “really a core element of our operations” for cybersecurity and infrastructure management.

More broadly on the IT front, Killoran pointed to GSA’s work with other agencies through its Centers of Excellence programs that has yielded further adoption and acceleration of agile methodologies and employment of DevSecOps methods to “better align with the changing missions and the changing times to accelerate that rate of adoption.”

“If you look at the ‘S curve’ of adoption, it’s getting closer and closer to being almost a straight line … technology is changing so rapidly,” she said. “I think the Federal government is starting to finally catch up with that by utilizing some of these capabilities and to adopt some of the practices.”

That trend, she said, has been helped by “the partnerships that we have with industry, and understanding not only what we need from a business perspective, but understanding those realms of the possible and being able to utilize … enablers and capabilities that are already in place versus continuing to develop our own government software have really helped in that.”

“For us within GSA, not only have we worked on those things, but kind of the next generation that is flipping from a business-focused capability to products utilizing shared services,” she said. “We are really looking at some of our enterprise capabilities, where we can get some better acceleration and velocity by accelerating our adoption into the cloud.”

For the rest of the story, please check out MeriTalk’s Power of Prediction: Federal IT Operations Management webinar, now available on-demand.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.