They’ve hired the first chief artificial intelligence officer (CAIO) in the govcon space and released an American-made “employee” ready to work within an enterprise’s existing systems. Now, NCI leaders are introducing “Shai” to federal customers on the heels of a White House announcement that promises additional funding and policy updates focused on bolstering AI solutions in federal agencies.
“The way that our solution works is you’d set up Shai just like you would any other user,” said Brad Mascho, the CAIO that NCI hired in January. “Shai gets a username and password, access to accounts and then you train Shai just like you would a brand-new employee. So every employee has to go through some amount of training; Shai goes through training to complete tasks.”
Designed to automate repetitive, high-volume tasks with the systems and tools each enterprise already has in place, Shai — short for Scaling Humans with Artificial Intelligence — is the first AI solution of its kind coded entirely in the U.S., making it an option for federal customers. Shai focuses on three areas: service desk support, back office support and data entry/data migration. The software allows Shai to log into applications the same as any other user, thereby avoiding the need for additional integration.
NCI’s June launch of Shai comes on the heels of the White House Summit on AI, which highlighted the growing importance of AI and related technologies at the federal level.
The development of Shai was balanced on an exclusive partnership with CrossChx, which is known for its presence in the commercial health industry, beginning in October 2017. Mascho co-founded the award-winning company and remains on its board of directors.
NCI CEO Paul Dillahay said the willingness of CrossChx to commit to an exclusive arrangement to bring NCI’s artificial intelligence solution-as-a-service to the federal market, as well as its status as a company with a code base developed in the U.S., were key factors in bringing the partnership about.
“I stumbled across CrossChx really on a lead from our Senior Vice President of BD Bridget Medeiros, and she introduced me to their CEO,” Dillahay said. “We spent a number of months having conversations, looking at their product, and determining its applicability to the services market and thought that this was exactly the type of company we’d want to partner with, both culturally as well as from a capabilities perspective.”
CrossChx’s background working with the regulated, secure requirements of health care had similarities to the federal market, he added. Under Mascho’s tenure as president at CrossChx, the company was a key player in addressing the opioid epidemic and global identity resolution.
“I thought their DNA from a security perspective fit very well with where we’d want to take the product,” Dillahay said.
Dillahay said his choice to focus on delivering artificial intelligence to the public sector has roots back to October 2016 when he joined NCI.
“I thought we had some great programs, some really strong people working for the business, and some pretty good capabilities,” Dillahay said. “But a core part of our business was almost commoditized to some extent. I thought that what we need to do is bring in some further differentiators if we were going to separate ourselves from our peers.”
NCI already has a significant presence in the Defense Department, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Homeland Security. Dillahay said he’s challenged himself and his staff to introduce Shai in conversations with customers.
“The recognition here is we only have so much bandwidth to bid in prime jobs, and the quickest way to penetrate may be through leveraging some of those industry relationships and partnerships that we’ve already established,” Dillahay said.
Mascho said he brings an entrepreneurial mindset to his position at NCI as he works to build out the business unit.
“I have to work with all of my counterparts here throughout NCI to manage everyone’s expectations,” Mascho said. “We’re growing as a company, and certainly everyone is excited about AI and excited about what it can do for NCI and for our customers. It’s a great opportunity for me to be a part of this.”
Dillahay said Shai is being well-received by staff at NCI where it is implemented company-wide. NCI is offering Shai training to the entire organization, from IT to HR as well as in their agile operations.
“That’s building both loyalty and trust as well as a team that can scale,” Dillahay said. “And I think giving the opportunity for career advancement to our current employees is really exciting.”
Everyone, said Mascho, is able to think of ways Shai could be useful in their daily life.
“We have yet to have a conversation where someone has walked away and said, ‘No, throughout my organization there are absolutely no highly repetitive, mundane tasks,’” Mascho said. “Everyone can think of their daily tasks, whether it’s a report that has to get pulled every day or whether it’s data entry that has to happen, everyone has these tasks throughout their organization.”
Because Shai can be used in so many situations, NCI’s job is to understand where and how the solution can help individual customers.
“We look at operational AI and how you scale humans, and so that allows us to get in and have a really robust conversation that I think applies all throughout the government,” Mascho said.
Dillahay said NCI currently has 12 bids in evaluation that are either AI-enabled or responses requesting AI as a solution.
“As I sit back and think about success over the next two to three years, I think there’s a chance to totally, and with our partners, disrupt the marketplace,” Dillahay said. “I think we have a very unique product.”
Still, good products alone aren’t enough of a selling point for customers in highly regulated industries, Mascho said.
“It’s also the service behind it,” he said. “It’s a superior product combined with a dedicated contractor that makes for the winning solution.”