Brad Mascho became chief artificial intelligence officer at NCI Information Systems, Inc. in January 2018 — the first role of its kind in the federal technology industry and Mascho’s first gig in government contracting.
But this position wasn’t Mascho’s introduction to AI. He connected with NCI because it uses an AI product created by a company he co-founded in Ohio years earlier.
“One thing led to another. I saw the opportunity to really step on the gas for AI in the federal sector,” Mascho told WashingtonExec. “[NCI] had gone into the AI space about two years ago, but was looking to build out the entire platform and approach, as well as the tools and everything else, and needed an entrepreneurial leader for this venture.”
But even before getting into AI, Mascho’s career began in political science — slightly by accident, thanks to a turn of events.
The Early Days
Mascho has bachelor and master’s degrees in political science and government from the Miami University in Ohio, but that wasn’t always the plan. He was on an Air Force scholarship as an undergraduate, and even minored in aerospace studies.
But when he blew out his ankle at Air Force field training, he couldn’t commission in the Air Force.
“I stayed an extra year and got a master’s, just because I didn’t know what I was going to do. All I had planned on doing was being an Air Force officer,” Mascho said. “Then, I had two degrees in political science, and I’m like, ‘now what do I do?’”
Originally, Mascho wanted to be an intelligence officer, hence the political science degree. But still, he genuinely liked politics, so he and his fiancée (now wife) picked up, moved to Washington, D.C., in 2003, printed out customized resumes and went door to door on Capitol Hill.
“We literally knocked on every single door on Capitol Hill,” Mascho said. “We both got jobs on the Hill . . . but I was always a technologist. I’ve always been a person that appreciates technology.”
When he first started working on the Hill, Mascho worked for a lawmaker who had “basically no website,” he said. “I was hired as a kind of front desk guy, so I built his website for him.”
About six months after Mascho coded the website, he was asked to become communications director.
Mascho also served as a campaign manager and adviser to congressional and state officials during his time on the Hill from 2003 to 2009. And as his years on the Hill progressed, so did his focus areas, from politics and communications to technology and emerging media.
It was also during this time on Capitol Hill he learned a core value he took with him to a company he later founded. Nearly 15 years ago, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was having a conversation with the press secretaries and made the point to “pick up the fricking phone; don’t just fire off an email and hope you get a response,” as Mascho explained it. And he has used that message ever since.
Getting Into AI
During his time in D.C., Mascho met up with former undergrad classmate Sean Lane. Together, they developed the idea for CrossChx — now called Olive — a health care tool that originally used biometrics to link fingerprints to medical records.
They wanted to bring technology into commercial health care. So, Mascho moved back to Ohio to start the company in 2012, and it “kind of all took off from there,” he said.
CrossChx, or Olive, has since become an AI product. The company is still rapidly developing its AI, but has come a long way since its beginnings.
“The AI portion was kind of hope in the beginning of the company. Now, AI is everything about the company,” Mascho said.
Olive is now a robotic process automation tool that, for example, will log into a system and check insurance eligibility prior to a patient going in for an appointment. But the tool originally intended to tackle prescription drug abuse by identifying doctor shopping — and was doing so with fingerprints. A person would go into a hospital, scan his or her fingerprint and the platform showed if the person had already been to another hospital to obtain prescription pills.
So, from a biometrics standpoint, the tool did take off. It was piloted at a hospital in rural Appalachia in Ohio, where there was a big prescription drug abuse problem. In a few short years, the product had collected 80 million medical records and 10 million fingerprints, according to Mascho.
“The governor had an opioid czar, and he came into our office and he asked, ‘Did you see the latest reports? . . . Opioid prescriptions have dropped 3% in the state,’” Mascho said, “which was a huge win.
And the year the tool was used in Gallia County, Ohio, the county saw a 16.2% drop.
But Mascho said there was a sense it would create a herding mentality — that the people would eventually just go to sites that weren’t using CrossChx. So, they took a deeper look at the problem across health care and realized what fed these problems were largely identity resolution issues.
It was common for a medical care facility worker to hear a name or the spelling of a name incorrectly and punch it into the system that way, or to mismatch patients with the same name with different Social Security numbers.
“What we found in those 80 million records is there is about a 14% error rate. A lot of it is people get married, they change names . . . but there’s just a ton of error in their records,” Mascho said.
So, Mascho and his team developed some systems to identify the error while a patient is standing at the check-in counter.
The system would alert the user duplicate records existed for the person checking in, and that it needed to be fixed.
But still, they were overwhelmed by the number of problems they were having. It was difficult to keep up with the demand of the mistakes.
Using AI to Fix What’s Broken
Mascho and his team realized they needed to develop a tool to help make these changes easier, and that’s where RPA and AI came in.
“You could actually log into multiple systems, change these records at once, start to pull their insurance eligibility prior to them getting there,” Mascho explained, and “actually realize ahead of time that there’s a problem, and do this before someone causes a grave mistake on someone’s medical record.”
Wanting to fix this problem was a natural urge for Mascho.
“My mission is to build something that doesn’t exist, and fix what’s broken,” he said. “It ends up fitting everything that I do.”
What he found in health care was an extremely broken system, for several reasons.
“I actually saw it as a kind of greenfield we could get into, have a big impact and an impact that wasn’t just a dollar-amount impact, but it actually was going to affect people’s lives,” Mascho said.
And that’s why he jumped into it in 2012. He ended up as president and co-founder of CrossChx overseeing the growing, venture-backed company. It has since raised $75 million to fund the entire process.
And besides his “World’s Greatest Dad Mug,” it was with CrossChx Mascho felt he received one of the most important recognitions of his career — three years in a row, the company was named “Best Place to Work in Columbus.”
The company grew from a small to medium and large-sized business over the course of those three years, but still maintained it was a great place to work.
“I would say I’m proudest of that. Proudest that we built a place that people wanted to come to work every day, and they were excited about the work that they did, and that we created an environment that empowered them,” Mascho said.
In 2018, Mascho ended up selling his portion of the company.
First Federal Tech Industry CAIO
Mascho’s role as CAIO — which was created for him — recognizes the power of AI and the future the technology holds. And as the first CAIO in this industry, he hopes he’s just the first of many.
“I hope everyone starts to adopt this and sees the power of what the potential is for the technology, and why you need to have someone that is focused on this on a day-in-day-out basis,” he said.
The role is rather cutting-edge, and holds high potential — fitting for Mascho and his interests. Because along with growing the business, he’s surrounded by the possibilities of AI.
Part of his priorities as CAIO include continuing the conversation around AI and getting people to understand its potential.
“We call our approach to AI scaling humans,” Mascho said. “You can use AI tools to move people from low-value to high-value work.”
This is a positive story around AI, as opposed to some of the fear and “click-bait” stuff still lingering around the technology — that AI is going to take everyone’s jobs, for example.
“I just don’t approach it that way,” Mascho said.
Rather, Mascho and NCI approach AI as a means of augmenting human tasks. Everyone is understaffed, and everyone has needs they can’t get to on a daily basis, he explained.
“We’re doing work that is, in a lot of cases, just mindless and repetitive. We as people should be able to not get stuck in the minutia of TPS reports,” he joked, referencing the movie “Office Space.”
Humans can use AI to get out of those problems and into more interesting work, and that’s what scaling humans is all about.
“My focus is in all of that growth mindset, but also reminding people that there are real tools here that can have a real impact on people’s lives today,” he said.
Potential of Scaling Humans
Mascho believes AI’s potential is beyond human capability to know what the potential is — that humans will overestimate the potential in the short-term and underestimate it in the long-term. It’s more than autonomous vehicles and flying cars, and humans can’t even start to envision what AI could look like in 10 or 20 years.
But right now, companies that are early adopters of AI are seeing their return on investment quickly — both in efficiency in the work they’re doing, and in how it’s impacting their workforce.
“I think some folks that were more scared of AI in the beginning, are starting to understand that there’s not a need to have this AI fear . . . that you actually are going to produce some really good results for the workforce,” Mascho said. AI can make for better jobs and for more interesting work.
And he has seen this potential first-hand in the health care industry over the course of the last eight years.
“When I first started talking to hospitals, you couldn’t say the term cloud or Amazon to them. We had to come up with a whole new vernacular about what we were doing with the data,” he said.
The health care industry has come a long way in understanding the opportunities it could be missing out on that commercially is seen in so many other industries.
“They’re getting to understand their customer better,” Mascho said. “The government at the end of the day has a customer too, and it’s the citizen.”
And as government works to understand citizens better, Mascho is seeing the same indications in the public sector he saw in health care in terms of adopting AI.
“We saw pretty fast adoption in health care nationwide . . . I think we’re going to start seeing the same thing happen in the public sector.”
And that’s the direction government should be headed for innovation — toward lean operation.
“The government should be focused on being citizen-focused, citizen-facing and citizen-first, and less on the administrative burdens of a big company, big industry,” Mascho said. “What I think the government isn’t here to do is to have forms about reports, and reports about forms.”
Essentially, Mascho hopes to get to a point where people can use their talents toward citizens and not toward paperwork.
Doing the Work that Matters
Of all the positions Mascho has held, companies he’s worked for and AI priorities going forward, what excites him most about the industry is seeing the difference it makes.
“When I get to spend time with our customers’ programs and see the work that people are doing, it inspires me to understand that this is all about the greater good,” he said. “It’s all about benefiting citizens.”
For example, NCI’s work on Army programs is important because soldiers are depending on those tools, and Mascho’s teammates show up every day for that reason.
“That inspires me to realize that that exists throughout this entire industry,” he said.
Whatever Mascho’s future holds, one thing is certain — he will be sticking to his purpose of building what doesn’t exist and fixing what’s broken.