Five 2024 GovCon Tech Trends: Perspectives from Six Industry Experts


White text on blue background reads: Five 2024 GovCon Tech Trends: Perspectives from Six Industry Experts

October means the start of a new fiscal year for the government. This means it's time to reflect on another year of growth and change for MetroStar and the government contracting industry. From MetroStar's to groundbreaking advancements across the sector, we witnessed a year that pushed boundaries, embraced innovation, and set the stage for an exciting future.

Innovation isn't just a trendy buzzword; it's the secret to creating a successful organization. Advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Cybersecurity, Human Centered Design (HCD), and Customer Experience (CX) have reshaped the industry and introduced fresh challenges while simultaneously creating new avenues for growth. Six experts at MetroStar shared what tech trends they expect to emerge in the new fiscal year.

How AI and ML Redefine Government Missions

By Tech Expert: Wilson Rodden, Senior Data Scientist, Computer Vision

Looking at the current state of and the future impact of AI/ML in the government contracting space, several trends emerge, like the proliferation of Machine Learning Operations (MLOps), the need for Responsible AI, and the development of sustainable practices for AI. The AI industry has experienced incredible progress, with groundbreaking tools like GPT and other Large Language Models revolutionizing text interpretation. In addition, platforms like Midjourney have introduced innovative image-generation capabilities. The open-source community has also made significant contributions, working alongside private model hosting platforms such as Llama2 and Falcon.

In government contracting, Machine Learning Operations (MLOps) stands out as the vibrant intersection of data scientists and operation professionals. As its significance surges, mastering MLOps is essential for government agencies aiming to tap into AI's potential and revolutionize their operations. Its transformative power becomes apparent as organizations invest in expertise and resources. Industry practices are rapidly embracing new technologies, with both private and open-source sectors developing tools to enhance MLOpstools like MLFlow, Weights & Biases, and Kedro.

As the significance of Responsible AI continues to grow, it extends beyond technology into the realms of ethics and transparency. Building trust becomes imperative by emphasizing transparency in data usage and empowering users, especially as skepticism surrounding models trained on publicly available data increases. Pursuing larger models brings forth the delicate balance of computational power and tangible outcomes, especially regarding inference speeds. While generative AI holds immense promise for the workforce, it raises concerns about sustainability and effectiveness. However, these challenges also offer significant opportunities to focus research and development (R&D) investments on making a direct impact.

The integration of sustainability and social responsibility into AI has become crucial. As initiatives continue to evolve, there is an undeniable emphasis on the significance of ethical and responsible technology. The AI landscape extends beyond mere technology; it fosters an innovative culture that relies on clear communication between R&D teams and end-users, continuous learning, and regular interactions with industry leaders.

Global dynamics, such as geopolitical events like the Ukraine conflict and shifting data regulations, particularly in regions like the UK, shape the narrative of AI and underscore the importance of understanding the interplay between AI, geopolitical factors, and economic factors. Furthermore, as the sector grows, the search for specialized talent intensifies, emphasizing the need to nurture internal growth and holistic well-being within organizations. Digital transformation highlights the significance of enhancing customer experiences through engagement, transparency, and trust. Two prominent trends emerge for the future: governments moving away from vendor lock-ins and the integration of data science and machine learning across various sectors. Those navigating the AI landscape should focus on strengthening internal teams, tailoring solutions, and facing challenges with unwavering determination. As we stand at a pivotal point in the evolution of AI, these strategies could very well delineate the roadmap for the industry's future leaders.

The Catalyst for Technological Progress in Government and Beyond

By Tech Experts: Iva Hutson, Tech Fellow - Digital Transformation and Hannah Hunt, Distinguished Technical Fellow

Human-centered design (HCD) is pivotal in developing technology across both commercial and public sectors. It acts as a vital conduit for individuals to accomplish crucial tasks while minimizing adverse human impacts such as frustration, tedious processes, inefficient task flows, and ethical dilemmas. In the government, the importance of these considerations is amplified as they significantly influence the level of trust citizens vest in their government's services and intents – which can directly affect our democratic processes and society at large. 

As modern hardware and software technology continues to advance, there is a persistent emergence of new technologies like Large Language Models (LLMs) and a diverse array of sensory interfaces like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Voice User Interfaces (VUI), which are being introduced within the public sector. The potential risks of these technologies were underscored in a recent petition by over 1,800 tech luminaries—including the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak—appealing for a pause in AI development. However, this call has largely been overlooked, with no deceleration in developing and launching new services and companies propelling these technologies forward.

This technological tide presents a dual challenge for the U.S. Government: ensuring it remains engaged in the latest technologies while simultaneously nurturing trust with its citizens. This thought process entails a thoughtful, ethical, and secure implementation of AI, ML, and other modern technologies in government operations. Balancing modernization with adherence to HCD principles and public trust is paramount for the government to successfully navigate the continually expanding technological frontier. 

Government technology practitioners can significantly minimize the negative impacts of generative AI and other advanced technologies by adopting HCD principles and practices, such as extensive user research and end-user validation on any product before it is launched. Below is a breakdown of some emerging technologies related to the human experience with the government, challenges and opportunities we foresee for the near future, and actionable advice for HCD practitioners. 

Utilizing AI and ML substantially amplifies the usability and accessibility potential for government services. In the context of VR and AR, these technologies create immersive training domains for government employees, military personnel, and educators, fostering an engaging learning environment. 

Generative AI, a subset of artificial intelligence, pushes these boundaries further by creating content autonomously based on the data it's trained on. This innovative approach allows for dynamic and personalized training modules, tailoring the learning experience to the user's individual needs. As generative AI continues to evolve, its potential to revolutionize how we approach training and education in virtual and augmented realities becomes increasingly evident, offering limitless possibilities for immersive and adaptive learning experiences.

With AI, analyzing and optimizing large terabytes of data becomes more feasible and reliable, which is critical for informed policymaking, fraud detection, and augmenting public service delivery. ML increases these capabilities by predicting potential issues or trends, proving invaluable across healthcare, public safety, and defense capability sectors. VUI significantly enhances accessibility to government services for individuals with disabilities while augmenting customer service through intuitive voice-activated systems.

Blockchain is another technology that can be pivotal for government operations and services due to its decentralized nature, cyber security nature, and transparent principles. Blockchain technology's secure, transparent nature underpins digital transactions, reducing fraud, and streamlining processes through smart contracts. This clear and efficient operation builds trust, a critical aspect of government-citizen interaction. 

To realize the benefits of these technologies, practitioners need to install clear human-centered ethical considerations in design and development processes from the beginning. This practice builds trust and safeguards citizen data and privacy, reflecting a responsible, citizen-centric government approach in the face of rapidly evolving technological landscapes.

As organizations amass and scrutinize more data to enhance user experiences, they will likely encounter heightened scrutiny regarding data protection and usage. Strict adherence to regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are imperative for data privacy and security. Concurrently, the rising ethical concerns surrounding AI and other technologies necessitate a thorough examination of the human impact, particularly when integrating AI, ML, and other autonomous systems. Moreover, a discernible skill gap exists, underscoring the need for professionals proficient in both technological and human-centered design realms. This skill shortfall may slow down how quickly organizations integrate and benefit from new technologies. This is particularly true given the prevailing bias towards the technology-building aspect rather than the adoption and usability of software tools. 

Navigating the dynamic nexus of HCD and emerging technologies necessitates a multidimensional approach. Investing in cross-trained talent is indispensable. Tech professionals are adept in software engineering practices, and HCD principles are instrumental in bridging the gap between innovative solutions and user-centric implementations. They harness the power of technologies like AI and ML while ensuring that the solutions are accessible, intuitive, and ethically designed. Furthermore, it is paramount to focus on ethics and compliance from the outset. In a realm where data privacy concerns and ethical quandaries are rampant, adhering to established regulations like GDPR and CCPA, and scrutinizing the ethical implications of software products are not merely about compliance but also about fostering trust and ensuring responsible innovation. Lastly, cultivating a culture of continuous learning is a linchpin for sustainable growth in this rapidly evolving domain. Encouraging teams to incessantly update their skills (especially in the AI space), stay well-informed of emerging trends, and engage with the broader industry community fosters an environment of adaptability and forward-thinking critical for navigating the complex, shifting landscapes of technology and human-centered design.

Navigating the Transformative Journey of Customer Experience in Government Sectors

By Tech Expert: Jason Stoner, Sr. Director of Transformation

The sphere of technology and customer experience (CX) in government sectors has been undergoing a significant metamorphosis. Spearheaded by policies such as the 14058, this shift towards enhanced digital services and superior citizen experiences is crucial in nurturing public trust in government services and democracy at large.

Rapid technological innovations are creating new possibilities for addressing government agencies' intricate challenges. However, their integration requires a clear understanding in terms of the principal problem at hand, security, and cost implications, and the technology's underlying value. A prime example of this is the rise of AI, particularly in the wake of the disruption caused by OpenAI's ChatGPT in 2022. Success hinges on applying human-centered design principles to ensure technology solutions align perfectly with user requirements.

There are an increasing number of tools and technologies available that have the potential to address the diversity and complexity of challenges our government agencies face. However, as impressive and advanced as these technologies are, they don't necessarily make it easier and have the potential to add more confusion.

Challenges for agency leaders are wide, ranging from security concerns, data ownership, and workforce expertise to procurement efficiency. Despite these hurdles, there is a collective inclination towards agile acquisitions, open-source software, and cloud services, all geared towards achieving tangible results. However, factors like legacy systems, bureaucratic roadblocks, and disparate digital maturity levels across agencies may hamper the seamless delivery of customer-focused services.

In today's digital age, it's crucial to think about sustainability while thinking about CX. Increased online activity has a big impact on the environment because of its high energy consumption. We need to be careful and find a balance between the positive benefits digital technology brings to this generation and the harm it can do to the environment. This means using technology when needed and finding ways to use clean energy like solar or wind power. For government organizations, it's important to be innovative and improve services for people while ensuring everything stays secure and reliable. In 2024, you will see many companies looking to strike a balance between using new technology and making sure these new innovations are stable, sustainable, and trustworthy.

In terms of talent, while specialization has its merits, the value of diverse experiences and a broad understanding cannot be understated.

CX, particularly in citizen engagement, is of utmost importance in the coming year. Equally critical is enhancing mission-critical systems that internal users interact with regularly. Improved user experiences, process automation, and the incorporation of AI for superior detection mechanisms will shape the industry's future direction.

Crafting Exceptional Customer Experiences: Strategies for Understanding, Engaging, and Enhancing

By Tech Expert: Vy Truong, Chief Innovation Officer

Enhancing customer experience and engagement in the industry is a multifaceted endeavor that begins with a deep understanding of customers' genuine needs, motivations, and expectations. It involves recognizing what customers require from a business and why they choose to engage or interact with it. Additionally, businesses must consider whether their services necessitate customer sign-ups or recurring interactions through their platforms. Competitive analysis is imperative to gauge how similar products or services in the market target the same customer base and whether there are specific communications from the business that customers need to comprehend and respond to.

To effectively incorporate these insights into business strategy and product delivery, a robust foundation is essential for the success of any customer experience and engagement initiative. This journey commences with user research, aimed at comprehending the Voice of the Customer (VoC) and discerning the sentiments and needs expressed regarding the business, its products, or services. User research culminates in creating customer personas, fictional representations derived from research that illuminate customer needs, behaviors, experiences, and objectives. Subsequently, developing a journey map becomes paramount to charting customers' steps and interactions with the business, pinpointing areas that warrant improvement based on the severity of sentiment, trust impact, and the effort required for adjustments. This holistic approach enables the identification of "moments that matter" within the customer journey, guiding enhancements to elevate the overall experience.

Integrating Service Design into the business process fosters a cohesive experience flow between the business and its customers. Several key areas can be addressed to amplify customer experience and engagement across the industry, including the reduction of the "time tax" associated with customer interactions. Contrary to social media platforms' revenue-driven approach, government digital services should emphasize efficiency, productivity, trust, security, and credibility. This entails promoting online services with streamlined processes, mobile-friendly interfaces, and digital forms and signatures, eliminating the need for in-person interactions and saving customers time, money, and frustration.

Clear, tailored, and accessible content should not be underestimated. Content crafted for digital platforms should prioritize conciseness, digestibility, and actionability while also accommodating various languages and platforms.

Lastly, accessibility, often treated as a mere checkbox, assumes paramount significance, especially in ensuring fair and equal access for at-risk, vulnerable, or underserved communities. Complying with Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is pivotal, as it maximizes customers' ability to access government information and interact with online services, fostering inclusivity and equitable engagement.

The Evolving Terrain of Government Contract Cybersecurity

By Tech Expert: Rob Santos, President and Co-Founder

Over the past few years, the technology industry has undergone remarkable developments and transformations, leading to a complete reshaping of its landscape. One prominent trend that has gained substantial momentum is the widespread adoption of AI/ML technologies. These cutting-edge tools have seamlessly integrated into everyday work, offering many advantages. However, amidst this rapid adoption, the industry has also placed a strong emphasis on data security, recognizing it as a fundamental cornerstone of any successful AI/ML implementation. This dual focus on harnessing new technologies while safeguarding sensitive data exemplifies the industry's unwavering commitment to innovation and security.

Peering into the future, technology businesses brace themselves for a colossal challenge that dominates their thoughts: cybersecurity. Despite progress in industry standards and enhanced security measures, the persistence of cyber threats remains a significant concern. New technology has equipped malicious actors with tools to disrupt and potentially dismantle companies and entire industries. It's crucial that we protect ourselves from cyber threats by staying alert and coming up with new ways to strengthen our digital defenses and keep our operations safe.

With the rapid evolution of our digital world, a captivating convergence emerges at center stage: the dynamic interplay between cybersecurity, sustainability, and social responsibility. As our reliance on technology grows, so does the need for sustainable practices that mitigate our impact on the environment and ensure a secure future for generations to come.

It is not just our industry that must embrace this mindset; we must collectively turn our attention to the state of the planet itself. As the only habitable planet in our solar system, it is imperative that we find ways to live and grow in a more sustainable manner. The consequences of inaction will reverberate through future generations, making it all the more critical that we prioritize sustainability and social responsibility. Within the cybersecurity industry, we are witnessing a shift towards incorporating sustainability and social responsibility into various facets of operation. Environmental certifications and the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions are emerging as requirements in contracts and are even being leveraged to enhance one's scoring in proposal submissions. This indicates a growing recognition of the importance of eco-friendly practices in fostering a more sustainable digital landscape.

The integration of cybersecurity and sustainability is essential for a more secure and sustainable future in today's digital landscape. Organizations are placing a strong emphasis on electronic waste recycling and green purchasing. These initiatives will not only be promoted internally, but they also signal a broader movement toward procuring more sustainable products and reducing the use of single-use items. To stay relevant in a cybersecurity landscape that's constantly evolving, it is crucial that we integrate sustainable practices and assume social responsibility to create a more secure and environmentally conscious industry. By embracing these principles, we can safeguard our digital infrastructure while fostering a sustainable future for all. 

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In conclusion, the tech industry has witnessed remarkable innovation and transformation. The convergence of AI/ML, cybersecurity, and HCD has redefined our landscape. To ensure a sustainable and trustworthy digital future, it is crucial that we strike a balance between technological progress and environmental responsibility. Join MetroStar's mission by subscribing to our newsletter, and let's collaborate in shaping a safer, greener, and more inclusive digital world together.