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February 19, 2018

In a recent article on Thinking Next, Dave Vennergrund, the Director of Data and Analytics at CSRA, took a detailed look at some of the hottest and potentially transformative technologies being discussed across both the public and private sector today—artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

In his article, Dave defined AI and talked about its long history—dating back to the beginning of computing. He also talked about what differentiates AI in the past from today’s AI solutions, and the trends and technologies enabling this AI evolution.

AI solutions are truly the future of technology, and offer the potential to make all organizations, including the federal government and its agencies, more effective and efficient. For this reason, we’ll will be speaking with cloud providers and emerging technology companies that are creating the innovative new AI tools that can help federal agencies drive operational efficiency and better serve constituents.

Dan Turchin, Astound
Dan Turchin
Co-founder of Astound
and Chief Product Officer

One of these innovative emerging technology companies is Astound. And that’s more than just a name. Astound’s technologies are helping federal agencies and other organizations to better and more effectively deliver employee service. To learn more about Astound, we recently sat down with Dan Turchin, the company’s Co-founder and Chief Product Officer. Here is what he had to say:

Thinking Next (TN): Can you tell our readers a bit about Astound’s solutions? What do they do and how do organizations utilize them?

Dan Turchin: Astound is an AI platform for employee service. As employees, we expect great service at work whether we need a password reset, a new iPhone, or information about healthcare benefits. We expect the kind of service we receive outside work as consumers. Unfortunately, what we get is often slow and the experience is poor.

Astound uses AI and machine learning to automate the service experience so employees get what they need faster and service providers like IT and HR can focus on solving complex issues that actually require humans.

The Astound AI platform includes four apps that follow the lifecycle of a service request.

  • AnswersSM - a conversational virtual agent that uses natural language to help employees
  • PredictSM - routes requests to the right teams using machine learning
  • AdviseSM - makes smart recommendations to live agents so they can resolve more issues the best way the first time
  • AnalyzeSM - provides dashboard insights to service owners to help improve service quality and predict which issues might impact users in the future

TN: Why are solutions like Astound’s important in the federal government today?

Turchin: Increasingly, federal agencies rely on technology to deliver every key service. When those services aren’t available or aren’t working as expected, the government doesn’t function efficiently and citizens are at risk.

To support the federal government’s mission to provide technology-enabled services that modernize the user experience, automation tools are being used to increase service availability, reliability, and quality.

AI-driven automation is the modern way to leverage the predictive power of historical data to make better decisions without traditional levels of human intervention. The most common benefits of AI-driven automation are reduced downtime, reduced cost per request, improved service quality and improved customer satisfaction. Ultimately, routine requests get answered the right way the first time, and federal agencies deliver better service to their employees.

When services like Medicare, public safety, and libraries operate efficiently, everyone benefits. Solutions like the Astound AI platform make every citizen safer and healthier while providing federal employees with more time to develop innovative new services and improve existing ones.

TN: How does AI power Astound’s solutions?

Turchin: Astound uses a combination of natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU), and artificial intelligence to understand what users need and provide the best solutions.

As an example, there are many ways to order a new mobile phone or ask for visitor access on the WiFi network. The Astound virtual agent uses NLP to understand requests in context and NLU to engage users in natural dialogs when clarification is needed.

Once the virtual agent understands the request, it interactively guides the user to the best solution. The solution may involve sharing an answer (“our policy for paternity leave is four weeks…”), ordering an item (“I’ve ordered you an iPhone X from Verizon”), or fixing a problem (“your guest has access to WiFi in building 27 until 4:00 p.m.”).

When the virtual agent isn’t able to resolve the issue, it automatically hands off the request to the most appropriate live agent and uses machine learning models to recommend solutions. As a result, the requester doesn’t have to wait on hold and the fulfiller fixes the problem right the first time using contextual recommendations from Astound.

TN: Astound bills itself as cloud native. What does this mean for users?

Turchin: The Astound AI platform is cloud-native to eliminate the need for agencies to manage infrastructure or machine learning models. Astound’s “AI as a service” delivers on the promise of sophisticated, compute-intensive technologies like neural networks without requiring federal IT teams to have knowledge of storage architectures or data science concepts like precision-recall and cross-validation testing.

TN: How is Astound’s solution helping CSRA service the VA? What about Astound’s solution made the partnership between CSRA and Astound the right choice for the VA’s specific needs?

Turchin: We started Astound with the vision of making work life better for every employee. We designed every app on our platform to be beautiful, intuitive, and intelligent. We think eventually every enterprise software product will be smart and the decision-making process traditionally left to humans will be augmented by thinking machines.

We’re proud of the value the VA will realize with the Astound platform. Using AI and machine learning, every internal request that would ordinarily result in a call to the help desk will now be AI-assisted. The real beneficiaries will be veterans and their families. Technology systems should have fewer issues and when they do they’ll be resolved the right way the first time.

CSRA has been an exceptional partner for Astound because both teams share a common vision to use technology to make life better. What we’re doing together to make the VA successful is similar to what we’ll be doing for many agencies. The VA’s leadership team appreciates the value of AI-driven automation. We think what they’ve accomplished will define a new standard for all federal agencies.

To learn more about Astound, visit their website by clicking HERE. For additional information on AI and CSRA’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, click HERE.