Adoption of emerging technologies does not happen overnight, and needs to be accompanied by critical steps including fostering a culture of innovation, said Sanjay Koyani, chief technology officer at the Department of Labor, who talked about his agency’s emerging tech progress on Jan. 19.

“By implementing [artificial intelligence (AI)] and automation capabilities into our processes we can reduce administrative burden and deliver the best service for the American people,” Koyani said during a virtual summit hosted by NextGov.

The CTO talked about one example – the agency’s benefits examiner process that required manual processes to update beneficiary data. The team processed approximately 3,000 forms a month with an estimated processing time of 15 minutes per form, but with the application of automation tech, the agency was able to minimize the amount of time spent processing forms manually.

“Implementing AI and automation into the benefits examiner process provides increased accuracy and reduced processing times, dramatically shortened beneficiary payment times, and enhanced customer service,” Koyani explained.

Before the department onboards any emerging technology, it puts the idea through an “innovation incubator” to assess mission needs, possible pilot programs, and scale of use, he said. The value of that process, he said, is that the agency is “not just assuming” that the new tech is going to function as advertised.

During the incubator process, the department determines user experience and customer experience requirements to define the problem being addressed, and user needs. Then, “we determine what are the key performance indicators and onboard the technology for faster decision-making automated processes to improve customer service,” Koyani said.

The technology is the simple part of this process, the CTO said. Koyani explained that three critical steps need to be taken to ensure that staffers are prepared and understand why emerging technology is being implemented.

“First we need to ensure that our staffers truly understand what the reason behind the change is, which means we cannot look only at effectiveness, but at what indirect impacts these new technologies might have,” Koyani said.

In ensuring cultural readiness it’s critical to hone in on the messaging for emerging tech with every member of the Federal agency, from leaders to employees and even customers, he said.

Lastly, he said all staffers must be educated on the ins and outs of the new tech, including governance and ethical practices.

That process involves “understanding where the concerns are, and then how you identify what the right messages are, and make sure that we’re factoring that into our approach and our process. Then we’re communicating it actively to the right groups,” Koyani said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.