Fostering a culture of innovation is core to the mission of the Centers of Excellence within the Federal Acquisition Service Office of Technology Transformation Services at GSA. One center specifically, the Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence (AI CoE), builds upon the fundamentals of advanced analytics like modernizing infrastructure and data, while fostering a deeper understanding of customer experiences and touchpoints across the agency. The AI CoE helps agencies discover innovation from within, elevates key use cases that can be addressed by AI-enabled systems, quickly proves out concepts, and then transitions new tools to the daily operation, complete with the organizational support to sustain and grow AI capabilities over time. This process results in delivering faster services, expanding the capacity of the workforce, reducing process errors, and maximizing the impact of the tax dollar. Innovation is the catalyst for organizations to evolve over time.
In competitive environments, the ability to adapt over time is essential to thriving in a given ecosystem. In natural science, one hypothesis is known as The Red Queen Effect, a theory named after the Red Queen’s Race in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, where the Red Queen tells Alice:
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do just to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast.”
The feeling of running in place is not uncommon when managing large organizations and complex systems. The day-to-day operation consumes so many resources and so much bandwidth, making the next step seems like it never gets any closer. The CoE teams partner with agencies to hone in on specific challenges to achieve repeatable and scalable solutions to effectively modernize their existing systems, resulting in faster, better services delivered to the public. The AI CoE makes a conscious effort to leverage groundbreaking technologies in machine learning and automation to innovate and evolve.
Accelerating adoption of artificial intelligence across the federal government requires agencies to shift how technology is viewed with respect to daily operations. Leaning in to AI challenges the federal government to adopt an innovation mindset and rethink how work has been done in the past.
The CoE team frames resourcing conversations by asking agencies where their organization falls in a hypothetical 80%-20% budget model. We expect that 80% of resources are dedicated to operations and 20% of resources are used to modernize systems and deliver better services to the public. However, it is more often the case in our experience that the 20% of the budget marked for modernization efforts is being used to maintain the status quo, versus improving and upgrading. Tech modernization is bound by objectives, metrics, programs, and budgets, with no explicit incentives for experimentation or rewards for innovation. Our team proposes a 80%-15%-5% budget model, where 5% of resources are dedicated to innovating—or reimagining how work is done.
Explicitly investing in innovation creates a window to test the latest techniques in natural language processing, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, and computer vision while incorporating successful tests into the broader organization. Running “twice as fast” requires a systematic, dedicated effort.