Automation is continuing to show promise in streamlining agency IT operations and improving workforce morale. It's especially showing promise in the financial industry.
Ginnie Mae’s Innovation Lab, housed within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is bringing emerging technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), low-code automation and machine learning to the government-backed mortgage finance system.
Emerging Technologies and Innovation Director Omar Bouaichi noted that the Innovation Lab creates a safe zone so that Ginnie Mae can assess new technologies without disturbing its operation.
“Technology is moving fast,” Bouiachi said at ATARC’s Digital Services Virtual Summit last month. “We need to make sure that the government is equipped to handle the change without impacting our operation and without missing the opportunity to save taxpayers money.”
Since its establishment in 2019, the lab has seen both technological successes and failures.
“Managing failure is an important element of the lab’s success,” Bouaichi wrote in a Ginnie Mae blog post. “Having a centralized innovation capability will allow Ginnie Mae to ‘fail’ and move on from nonviable ideas more quickly and efficiently, while also making sure it’s capturing and consolidating what it learns from unsuccessful efforts so that it can use these insights moving forward.”
The lab is currently running multiple evaluations that incorporate blockchain, smart contracts, rapid analytics and machine learning. It's also assessing how to take these innovations and do more higher level artificial intelligence functions.
“This innovation lab is the platform to assess and run all this technology and make sure that there are use cases that are relevant to us, that can demonstrate the savings,” Bouaichi said in another event in early December. “AI is key for us, but we need to make sure that when we bring AI in, we understand its impact. We impact the industry we are in, so our choices need to be responsible and accountable. We’re looking at ethics in AI. We’re looking at the performance of AI, the impacts of AI. These are things that the innovation lab has the mandate to evaluate and report to the leadership of Ginnie Mae.”
Some of the technologies the lab has experimented with were ultimately implemented at the agency in the form of algorithms for anomaly assessment, low code and RPA — saving the department time and money.
“We have automated financial processes, and that has been very beneficial for our CFO,” Bouaichi said at the event. “We are collaborating with the business, making sure that they are with us in this journey. You have to get the business to assist in this adoption and emphasize communication.”
While the lab tackles standard IT systems and processes, it also is tasked with finding innovative solutions to all kinds of other emerging areas, including recruiting and the future of work.
“The innovation lab at Ginnie Mae has been tasked to assess the future of work in terms of what we need for this young generation to join the government, and retain, and train, and participate like we participate,” Bouaichi said. “We are working with our HR department to make sure that we have the right platform for this young generation. … Some of the procurement stuff that we do, maybe it’s archaic, maybe it needs to be innovated.”
One of the department's missions is to establish a culture of innovation that extends outside the lab.
“Ginnie Mae structured the lab in such a way to make sure employees at all levels have the opportunity and resources to help them innovate; part of this will be accomplished through the launch of prize challenges and using the lab space to test solutions with actual Ginnie employees,” Bouaichi wrote in the Ginnie Mae blog post. “Moreover, leadership believes the Innovation Lab will enable the growth and development of talent across the organization.”
The Innovation Lab isn’t HUD’s only visionary program. The agency also boasts a Synergy Lab to bring in leaders from across the department’s offices to collaborate and develop new solutions together. Bouaichi participated in the program as a fellow and engaged in four months of rigorous training, introducing solution prototypes for HUD to evaluate.
“We provided six prototypes that had been evaluated, and they are currently being assessed by HUD to be launched or developed,” Bouaichi said. “It’s been a very successful program. ... We’re planning for the next cohort.”
At the end of the day, Bouaichi says that the lab’s work comes down to providing innovative solutions to the participants and beneficiaries of the government-backed mortgage-based security market without sacrificing operational consistency and dependability.
“This innovation lab has been effective, and it has been a way to weed out things that are very disruptive, but still are on our radar,” Bouaichi said. “We have created this zone where we can assess things and make sure that the solutions are well vetted because, for us, operation is the most important thing.”