Shannon Fitzgerald believes mission outcomes should be both the driver and roadmap for all technology decisions.
As executive vice president leading citizen services and economic advancement for Booz Allen Hamilton, she guides her government clients toward practical outcomes. While tech tools often play a role, the bigger picture is always about meeting the mission.
“Citizen expectations are changing,” Fitzgerald said. “People expect their engagements with the government to be the same as with a financial institution, or as easy as ordering something on Amazon. We are really focused on helping our clients understand how to do that, and how to stay agile at the same time.”
When legacy systems and the high cost of modernization get in the way of change, Fitzgerald helps clients to prioritize, guiding them through the integration of technology that can drive meaningful improvement.
“We’ve been really focused on helping our clients understand how they can jump the line, how they can use modern technology to be more nimble and move faster,” she said. “This whole notion of being agile, doing short sprints and rapid deployment of capability: That has really changed the game.”
Given the staggering variety of technologies on offer in the federal space, it’s easy to make a misstep — to pursue a technology that falls short or locks in an agency over time. Fitzgerald leverages Booz Allen’s long history in the federal space to steer agencies safely through.
“We’re really looking to partner with our clients, to reimagine the art of the possible,” she said. “We use our intimate understanding of the mission and our understanding of emerging technologies to find the right marriage between those two. Until you can weave those pieces together, you don’t have the solution.”
While Covid-19 has changed the pace of work, Fitzgerald said her team was able to rapidly shift gears to a remote-work posture. In this new environment, the team has all but abandoned phone calls, opting instead to meet “face-to-face” via WebEx whenever possible.
“This crisis has demonstrated the need for human interaction,” she said. “Trust is built on interaction, but trust is also very hard to create from scratch in a virtual environment. This all works much better if you have already built in respect, if you already know how people communicate and interact. We are fortunate to already have that in place with our clients.”
While the coronavirus crisis has changed the nature of communication, it’s also had an impact on citizen services.
As Fitzgerald describes it, the challenges that were faced with loan processing and the release of stimulus funds highlighted the need for government to embrace new technologies in support of greater efficiency. Agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service, addressed this challenge by meeting citizens where they are, specifically by allowing taxpayers to track their stimulus checks.
“You can take AI, for example,” she said. “We know that AI could improve the call center experience and reduce wait times, with things like voice recognition and natural language processing. When you think about combining AI with case management, it could change the game today for how citizens get small business loans or unemployment claims.”
While some in government still shy away from the notion of a labor-saving solution – Would it put people out of work? – Fitzgerald emphasizes to her clients the idea of AI as an enabler, a tool to help government meet the mission more effectively.
“There is a lot of labor going to low-level work versus high-level, high mission-impact work,” she said. “Emerging technologies can address that. At the same time, I think there’s always going to be a concern around skills. There will be a need to upskill — without a doubt. That’s a journey that our clients need to be on, but I think as humans, we all need to be on that same journey of continuous evolution and intellectual curiosity”
Ready to pivot
Looking ahead, Fitzgerald said the pandemic has highlighted the government should continue to work to be nimbler — because you never know what might happen next.
“It’s shown us the need to be agile, to be able to augment and pivot based on a need that is not typical of your mission,” she said.
That need for an agile and responsive government is evident in the cyberspace, where threats are ever-changing. And it’s evident, too, in citizen services and economic advancement, where Fitzgerald has seen firsthand how important it is for government to be mission-focused when the chips are down.
“Back in 2008, during the financial crisis, this all became very personal for me because I saw people I know lose their retirement and life savings,” she said. “At that time, I had the opportunity to help stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I was working 24/7 during that time, and I realized I was never tired — because I had this passion for helping people in the moment that they needed it.”
In the citizen services and economic advancement space, “you can really feel it: You can feel the impact,” she said. “And it’s the same in this present crisis. I know I’m helping the nation in the moment when the citizens need it most.”