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The three ghosts of technology

It's the holiday season and in that spirit I will borrow a theme from Dickens.  There are three innovative technologies ready for use in Health and Human Services (HHS), one the technology of the past, one the technology of the present, and one the technology of the future. These are Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Chatbot, and Blockchain, respectively.

RPA is an innovation fully developed and ready for widespread use. By automating user intensive tasks which are primarily data look up and entry, RPA frees up users to work on those tasks that require human intelligence. RPA can bridge legacy and modern systems, providing low touch integration that previously was a two screen solution - where users toggled and copied data from one screen to another. It makes a good tool to provide a single screen view of citizen data from different systems without having to toggle back and forth and to enable integration, without having to wait for a new system build. More advanced implementations can utilize web services or rules engines to empower complex integrations between systems in an ad hoc fashion.

Chatbot is a technology coming into fruition. While bots have been around for decades and can trace their roots back to Eliza, it's only recently that the technology, augmented by recent innovations, is witnessing widespread use. Chabots use AI abilities of natural language processing to automate interactions with the public, providing a friendly user interaction and avoiding forms based portals. The ability for the AI to determine what the user is really looking for, and to develop and infer new answers, is growing and will develop to the point where the chatbot system can self-learn, making it "turn on and forget" technology that self optimizes. Eligibility systems can use a chatbot in their citizen portal to answer questions that typically go to a call center. They can also enable benefit applications in a more unstructured, helpful format, branching where needed and providing more contextual feedback step by step. Chatbot is the technology of today that will continue get better over time.

The technology of the future is blockchain. The ability to have distributed, autonomous, secure, non-reputable (i.e., users can't deny that they performed a transaction) databases is currently being implemented for crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin. States and the Federal Government can create distributed databases for land records, tax payments, and DMV information, for example. In Health and Human Services, a distributed blockchain could replace EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards for social program payments. This could allow WIC or SNAP benefits to be used at any store without the need for previous registration and new technology. It would also enable a real-time view of purchases via the new blockchain technology and even provide incentives to the citizen to make better food choices like fresh fruits and vegetables instead of cookies. Blockchain isn't ready today, but it is something to be evaluated and included in a strategic plan. It will be here in the next 3-5 years.

The innovative technologies of the past, present, and the future provide solutions that are mature and ready for mass use (RPA), useful but will grow better in the near term (Chatbot), and not ready for implementation, but will provide innovation in the future (Blockchain).


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