MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government IT, has announced the results of its new report, “AI is Out There: Early Adoption in Federal, State, Local, and Higher Education Organizations.”
The study, underwritten by Arrow and NetApp, surveyed 300 Federal, state, local, and higher education (SLED) IT managers to explore where they think their agencies are with artificial intelligence (AI) as a broader concept, and to understand their usage of foundational AI technologies like chatbots, intelligent analytics, high performance computing, and more.
The study confirmed that AI is not a concept of the future. Between February’s executive order and the launch of AI.gov in March, AI continues to gain traction in Federal agencies – with state and local governments, and higher education institutions feeling a similar pressure. Almost all IT managers (90%) have sensed a shift in momentum toward the adoption and application of AI technologies in their organizations over the last two years.
Interestingly, though IT managers overwhelmingly agree a shift is taking place, only 14% say they have implemented and are currently benefitting from AI in their organizations today. However, this technology may be more prevalent than it appears – 61% report benefiting from at least one foundational AI technology; voice assistants, high performance computing, and chatbots are all topping the list.
“Federal, state, and local governments, and higher education institutions are already implementing AI,” said Russ Braden, technical solutions architect, Arrow Electronics. “Foundational technologies like video analytics and natural-language processing (NLP) solutions are providing many day-to-day benefits that simplify customer assistance and help free up time for employees.”
While AI adoption does come with uncertainties and challenges, more than half (54%) of Federal and SLED IT managers say they are optimistic about the prospect of adopting AI and most expect the technology to generate significant mission-focused benefits in the future. More than three quarters (77 percent) view AI as an asset to their organization’s ability to deliver on its mission, and 85 percent agree AI will be a game changer in the way their industry thinks about and processes data.
“AI’s potential is vast for government agencies,” said Mason McDaniel, chief technology officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. “Advanced intelligent technologies will increasingly handle routine processes, allowing employees to focus on the more challenging tasks where humans excel. That will make our workforces much more effective at accomplishing their missions and help agencies deliver more effective and efficient citizen services. As AI becomes more prevalent, we can expect improvements in cybersecurity, data analysis, risk management, fraud detection, and much more.”
Despite the excitement, no more than 15% of IT professionals feel prepared to fully launch AI in their agencies today. Organizations must first improve their analytics, infrastructure, strategic leadership, data organization, and staff knowledge, to take full advantage of all AI has to offer. When asked to prioritize, Federal IT managers cite talent and technology as the major roadblocks to AI expansion; state and local governments and higher education institutions cite technology and culture.
The study suggests that agencies and educational institutions have a limited amount of time left to prepare. AI technologies will likely become more prevalent in the near future – 73% say their organization will increase spending on AI this year, and 73% say they’ll increase the pace of adoption. IT professionals agree that AI will become a cornerstone of their organization’s operations between 2020 and 2025.
As the momentum toward AI adoption increases, organizations must start by ensuring AI is part of their technology roadmap. First to instill confidence – then, to build a foundation by investing in relevant infrastructure, organizing data, and improving data governance.
“Realistically, we can expect to see AI continue to gain more traction over the next year,” said Rob Stein, vice president, U.S. Public Sector, NetApp. “Agencies must start to simplify, accelerate, and integrate their data pipeline as a first step to developing a broader, more complex AI strategy.”