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DHS Innovation Lab, AI Help Government Acquire New Tech

DHS’s Procurement Innovation Lab is now using artificial intelligence to assist agencies with testing and acquiring emerging technologies.

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Innovation Lab and AI Help Government Acquire New Tech
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The Department of Homeland Security is incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into its acquisition framework to help agencies looking to experiment with and buy new technologies. AI not only improves the way DHS works with industry during the acquisition process, but also boosts stakeholder engagement with the DHS Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL).

The PIL, which launched in 2015, gives acquisition teams a safe space to bring their tech requirements and try out innovative tools. Monica Taylor, a PIL Coach at DHS, said including AI and an end-user perspective in the procurement process can help federal agencies acquire new tech tools to suit mission needs.

“Right now, the PIL is piloting a market research AI tool and one thing that’s so important about this is the end user feedback,” Taylor said during a Nextgov event. “During pre-solicitation and the actual contract performance, make sure the end user is always represented in the requirement and continually throughout the life of the contract, it’s important to do consistent and adequate market research.”

Taylor also advised building flexibility into contracts so as to allow for changes and avoid vendor lock-in.

“You want to have that flexibility already built into the contract so that everything doesn’t have to require a modification,” Taylor said. “Building in additional capacity on the team and making sure on the onset of contract you’re evaluating informing vendors by building in time for technical debt and building in time for different pivots that may happen.”

In addition to providing brainstorming meetings and biweekly engagement calls, the PIL offers agencies joint application modeling (JAM) sessions to increase the odds of successfully procuring emerging technologies. During these JAM sessions, procurement teams evaluate the end-user perspective to ensure the end user is involved in how emerging technologies are secured and used at government agencies.

“We JAM it out with the team, so we have constant collaboration and interaction with the team when they’re buying new emerging technologies,” Taylor said. “It’s important that teams are talking and having that conversation not only internally, but also with industry on what their needs are.”

The PIL also has a host of other resources for government experts who may be looking to purchase new technology, including a PIL Bootcamp and PIL Bootcamp Next Level, both of which teach more than a dozen innovative techniques in addition to practical applications.

“We have a PIL YouTube Channel, PILcasts, a 10-minute podcast style on micro-training on different innovative technologies and PIL webinars,” Taylor said. “We also provide a ‘periodic table of acquisition innovation.’ This has actual innovative techniques where people can click and see the techniques and use cases that are not just DHS specific across the different agencies.”

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