Federal Agencies Must Start Chatbot Development Now to Reap Future Benefits

Chatbots, which use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to understand a visitors question or “intent, can greatly improve customer service for federal agenciesBut agencies lag in the adoption of chatbot technologies. 

Chatbots are already providing more nuanced responses, 24/7, to customer/citizen inquiries than FAQs and simple keyword searches. But while private-sector adoption has moved swiftly, the public sectoadoption rate is slower,” according to Chatbots Magazine. 

“All organizations face challenges in adopting new technologies. However, public entities tend to be less agile than their private sector counterparts, owing in part to their established practices and processes,” writes Julián Torres Santeli, a government AI expert at Deloitte, and Sabine Gerdon, an AI fellow at the World Economic Forum. 

Santeli and Gerdon, writing for the World Economic Forum, identify five barriers: 

  • A rudimentary understanding of data assets. 
  • Short supply of data and AI skills. 
  • A fragmented AI environment. 
  • Lack of agility to move from legacy cultures. 
  • The need for customization 

Government faces significant challenges for widespread AI adoption. Contrary to the popular belief that technology is the main roadblock, technical challenges form just part of the task at hand, and this is the most straightforward part to address. Culture and processes, both ingrained in organizations, also need adjustment before AI can be fully exploited. 

Agencies also have ethical and liability concerns, according to a recent TechTank article from Brookings. “Building chatbots that are ethical will become an important issue, and public agencies should think creatively about the rules and regulations governing their use.” 

Chatbots Pave the Way for Future AI Development 

Despite the challenges, chatbots can pave the way for the public sector to adopt artificial intelligence, according to Brookings. In Highlight’s work with federal agencies, chatbots are providing several advantages. Chatbots can: 

  • Free up limited government employees to manage more complex questions and requests. 
  • Provide citizens with more personalized services. 
  • Provide ease of 24/7 access that citizens now demand. 
  • Reduce the complexity of government policies and documents. 
  • Obtain more public feedback on policy issuesevents, government services, legal and regulatory questions, and much more. 

While the private sector remains ahead in the development of chatbot technology, its worth noting Forrester study commissioned by Ada. It finds that only 21 percent of firms say that customer experiences are highly personalized today. However, two-thirds say they have plans in place to have more highly personalized interactions within two years. 

On the horizon are more advanced tools that have the functional capabilities to understand customers, their histories, and other contextual inputs – all useful to clarify intents. 

“AI-powered chatbot technologies that can be customized and operated by CX teams must be embraced,” the study notesThese technologies will integrate into the larger business tooling infrastructure and more efficiently offer a high degree of personalization, leading to more satisfied, engaged, and loyal customers.” 

The key is to start chatbot development now rather than wait for the perfect chatbot tools to arriveHighlight’s experience is that it takes time to get stakeholder buy-in, to agree on nomenclaturetopic categories, and the appropriate level of detail, to set up alpha and beta tests to analyze customer intents and to integrate the chatbot with website pages. 

The bottom line: Citizen customers expect to have highly personal and contextual interactions available 24/7. 

“AI-powered chatbot technologies that can be customized and operated by CX teams must be embraced,” Forrester concludes. “These technologies will integrate into the larger business tooling infrastructure and more efficiently offer a high degree of personalization, leading to more satisfied, engaged, and loyal customers.” 

As stated by a forward-looking agency-client working with Highlight to develop a chatbot, it is critical to get started now so that the agency chatbot can organically grow in sophistication as more tools become available and the UX operation becomes more sophisticated. Otherwise, your agency will be left behind. 

Author: Barry Lawrence | Senior Communications Consultant

Episode #14 | Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Adam McNair: Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Highlight Cast. Uh, this is Adam McNair. I’m, uh, glad to be here today and joined again by Kevin Long. Hi, Kevin. Hey, Adam. How’s it going? Good. Uh, Victoria Robinson is also here who leads our marketing activities. Hi. Hi Victoria. 

Victoria Robinson: Hi everybody. 

Adam McNair: And our very special guest this week who we are very excited about is, uh, Fiona , who is our HR manager here at Highlight.

Hey, Fiona, how are you? 

Fiona Sityar: Hey, everyone. I’m doing well. 

Adam McNair: That’s awesome. So, Fiona’s joining us today. We’re specifically going to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it’s a major program that we have here at Highlight. And there are, as a government contractor, there are parts of it that are actually mandated.

By the government, you need to have some affirmative action, um, uh, equal opportunity types of, of, of goals. Um, but we’ve, we’ve gone beyond that. There’s some things that come from department of labor, different contracts have some different things, but, um, we have a specific program around that, that, um, Uh, the Fiona leads and I will say that, you know, the topic of, of diversity and then going to diversity and inclusion and then diversity equity inclusion.

And I was part of that conversation of, you know, do we have, uh, a plan that does 1 or multiple or all of that? Um, and I learned some things during that process. I mean, I think the equity was a topic that I, I wasn’t really familiar with. Fiona, would you mind just giving us kind of the, your, your, your thoughts on that?

Definition of the differences, the diversity, the equity, and the inclusion. 

Fiona Sityar: Yeah, sure. So, I once heard an analogy that describes it really, really well. Um, diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And equity is making sure that everyone can get to the party, um, on time and enjoy the party together.

Sure. So, um, it’s a really pared down way to describe it, but I thought that that was kind of the best way, um, to put it in layman’s terms and make it really easy. Everyone loves a good party. 

Adam McNair: Absolutely. That, I think that’s a really good way to put that, you know, and I, I, equity was one of the things that I hadn’t thought about. Wasn’t really a topic I was familiar with in the past. You know, we had a manager’s meeting. I don’t know, it was a couple of months ago. Um, and we were talking about the practical impacts of this, because I, I think programs like this are theory and philosophical in, in overall kind of construct, but they, they impact your business very directly based on who you hire and what your workforce looks like and some of the examples that That we came up in the managers meeting or things like, you know, if you’ve got five people all doing the exact same job and you pick one person who’s not going to make as much money as the other four, that has a fairness aspect to it. It also has operational impact. I mean, I’ve had teams before where. Everybody knows what everybody else makes and a couple of people really resent what a couple of people on the team and it all has to do with something they had nothing to do with based on how much somebody did or did not get paid. And so it kind of stacks the deck against the morale of of a team.

And, and that’s not to say that’s more or less important than the, just the fairness aspect, but it’s a real one, because, you know, I think sometimes when you talk about kind of a philosophy angle on something like this, and it has some moral underpinnings, Okay. Well, how does that apply in the real world? It causes real world problems for everybody on, on programs when that happens. Um, so I guess the question, you know, I, I know we’ve, we’ve had some, some regulatory requirements to have some things we wanted to do it from a, um, kind of an ethics perspective, but for, you know, what, what for you was the, the, you think was the real reason for going from, um, What we’ve been doing before to having a formal named diversity, equity, and inclusion program.

Fiona Sityar: Yeah. Um, so DEI, um, short for diversity, equity, inclusion has obviously been a hot topic recently. And I think employees are starting to expect more from their employer and rightfully so. Uh, the way I’ve had it described to me before is that, um, Once employer is kind of an extension of oneself in a way. So why wouldn’t you want your employer to also reflect those same ideals? Um, ultimately we want to be an employer of choice that people are drawn to. It’s the law of attraction, right? You attract what you put out, translate that into corporate terms, and you hope to build a company culture that employees believe in and support. So. We want our employees to stay here not only for the financial transaction, perform their role, get a paycheck, um, but because they want to continue working with the peers they have here under the shared common values we’ve cultivated and stay in the environment that we’ve fostered. 

Adam McNair: So, so I think that makes a lot of sense. I think one of the, the, the, the ideas that that raises for me is that, you know, that idea that, okay, you just go to work to get paid, right? There are a lot of programs that that we support that really require a lot more commitment than that from from us as a company and from our employees. And I think maybe that’s 1 of the areas why this is kind of so important.

To the employee, but also to the company, Kevin, as I think about some of the programs that, that you’ve managed, you know, over the years, um,

what, what’s been your experience trying to, to find people for some of these difficult to fill positions? I mean, it’s not like they’re sitting there wishing we would call them. I mean, it feels like it’s, It’s a bit of a sales activity to get them interested in the role. 

Kevin Long: Absolutely. I mean, I have developed a, uh, I mean, even partners, when we start talking about, you know, recruiting and staffing things, uh, really good, you know, pitch on. Why highlight is awesome, right? And what you get out of it, what we do and why someone should consider coming to work with us. I mean, it’s exactly like Fiona said. I mean, it’s not it’s not just a paycheck anymore with that with what we do. I mean, why? We sell brains, right? And, and brains to, to, you know, function at the highest level, they need to be inspired and they need to be growing and they need to be learning and they need to be doing all of these things. And, you know, they need to feel like they belong and even more so with, especially with like harder to fill positions. It’s, I mean, a lot of. A lot of places where we work, um, uh, it’s, I mean, the idiom I use, it’s like, I mean, it attracts people that have drunk the Kool Aid, right? Like, you know, I worked at, at State Department for, you know, a decade.

Uh, you know, anyone that’s listened to this is probably tired of hearing about that, but I totally drank the Kool Aid at State Department, right? Like when, when State Department does a, Does their job, right? The world is a more democratic, safer, equitable place. How awesome is that? Right? And so with, with highlight and with programs like this, you know, you get to help inspire people with the ideas on, on what we’re doing, right? It’s when, when we’re here, it’s like, you come to highlight, not just because, you know, you’re going to get your paycheck, but we’re going to help you. Grow your career. We’re going to have a place that has ideals that, that hopefully match your own. If not, then great. Then there’s other companies out there for you. But, you know, I love having a program like this that allows us to be very upfront about who we are and what we do and, you know, and really attract people that, that share all of those values and people that, that want to find difficult, that are in difficult positions. Civil are often all, all interested in that. So I use it all the time. 

Adam McNair: And I think also, you know, as you’re talking, I think that as recruiting has almost exclusively shifted to internet based You know, research and people are able to much more easily do kind of kind of reference checks on employers. I mean, there are, you go see the website, but there is glass door. There is, there is linked in there’s, there’s reviews inside of indeed all these different places. It’s not just a. One way street of us sitting there kind of shopping for resources and whoever we find we go get it Yeah, it it’s a it’s a much more bi directional process at this point where where people look that are Sometimes they’re not even looking for jobs. They’re a commodity and and You really have to have a good You know, overall story for them. If they’re going to be interested in coming to work someplace. And the other thing is you talk about the missions of the customers that we support the company that we’re trying to be. If you want innovative thought, if you want people that have new ideas, you need to have everybody that doesn’t come from exactly the same background. And, you know, I, I think we’ve all probably seen either inside of a customer organization where everybody’s been there for 20 years, or even I see sometimes it’s small businesses, you’ll see most of their management team and most of the people inside of the company, they’ve all come from one large business and, There’s there are some positive things to that, you know, unified culture and shared experience and all that, but you’re not going to get my opinion.

You’re not going to get as diverse and innovative a set of ideas. So I think there’s there’s a lot of benefit across the company and the kind of work that we do and the capabilities we have for having. A diverse workforce and, and the morale aspects of having people that feel included and have equitable access to, you know, the corporation and the benefits of the corporation and their career and so forth, you get better work from everybody. And that benefits all of us. So I know Fiona, you’ve taken some specific actions and we’ve got a formal plan around this. So what are the same some of the Key or compelling to you aspects or actions like what, what’s the D. E. I. Program actually do? Like, what are some things that you can sit back and say, Hey, these are the ways we try to advance this, this program and concept in the company.

Fiona Sityar: Sure. So highlights culture as in culture. Credibly fluid and our initiatives ebb and flow based on direct employee feedback. So the feedback that we get from our focus group, from the surveys that we run, I know we just ran a best places to work survey. So I’m hoping to get those results here shortly. Um, fingers crossed.

So different things like that allow us. To assess what employees are needing and kind of pivot what we’re doing based on that. Um, and obviously it’s truly voluntary, the information that we collect, but it’s truly valuable as well. Um, it focuses us, it directs us moving forward, and It drives the conversation and keeps the momentum going.

Adam McNair: That makes sense. I, I, the other question that I have, and, and I, I don’t know if this is a, is, you know, an easy question or not, but I’m curious, how much of what we do do you feel like is mandated by the government? Versus how much have you tried to go above and beyond for value, whether that be value to the employee, value to the customer, value to the company, you know, whatever. As far as just minimum compliance where we wouldn’t be in trouble, how, how far are you trying to have us operate at or above that level? 

Fiona Sityar: Uh, compliance is my favorite topic. I live in brief list.

As Adam mentioned earlier, we’ve got the formal affirmative action plan and that is definitely mandated by the government and that’s kind of the baseline of what we need to go off of on But I think that highlight does so much more than that. I know I mentioned our focus group earlier on where we have representatives from a number of teams come together to discuss different topics. Um, uh, we also. In addition to that, we’ve just recently launched our highlight inclusion ally program. Um, it’s basically an eight part mini episode series that helps with furthering employee education on basic DEI topics. So defining diversity and inclusion, exploring what it means to be an inclusive leader and what we can do as individuals to help foster an inclusive and diverse work environment. So the episodes are bite sized. Only a few minutes long, which I think is the best way to sustain someone’s attention span. Um, and the series really intends to be a resource and build upon existing knowledge employees may already know. And it also allows them to be recognized for their continual learning and distinguishes them at highlight. And then lastly, there’s a small aspect. I like to think of personal pride that comes with knowing that you’re doing your part to make highlight a better place to work. And that’s what it really boils down to. We want a place to feel empowered and know that they can make applicable changes to highlight that will impact them and highlight as a whole. So 

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think you’ve done a lot of work in a lot of those areas and I think things like that and it’s important and you know, I’ve, I have worked places where they, they, they felt like they were operating off of that baseline of the things you have to do to be compliant. And I’ve had. All kinds of different versions of, they weren’t called that necessarily at the start of my career, but some kind of inclusion diversity type training annually was folded in with the overall HR training, and it evolved over time, but it was a lot of it was usually just focused on as a manager, here are some things not, you know, not to do. And. I, I felt like when I was taking manager training, a lot of it was bordering on, let’s try to make sure that we don’t get sued as a company or, or if we get sued as a company, we can, we can claim that Adam was given training. And so it really isn’t our fault. It’s his. 

Kevin Long: Here is what the lawyers told us we had to do.

Adam McNair: Absolutely. You know, and, and I, I think, I think when, first off, I think when training is offered and it feels that way, nobody engages with it in a meaningful way. And I think one of the differences between what Fiona is doing here at Highlight and what I’ve seen other places is the spirit and intent of that comes out.

So people actually feel like it’s a real thing and not just something that we sent you to it. Quote, unquote review, which, which what we really mean is we need to show that you clicked this and opened it and closed it. And we don’t care if you read it, but it covers our legal liability. The 

Kevin Long: liability is now shifted to you. Congratulations. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, absolutely. Um, the other, the other part of it that I, I do think is, is important is I think the idea of, of allowing. Creating something to communicate to all employees from an education standpoint, because I would, I would guess that some turnover and some morale problems and some issues on programs arise when there’s probably, there’s something that probably should have been addressed from the perspective of DEI, but maybe the employee didn’t realize it. And they just thought I don’t like this program, this program, this. It seems like it’s frustrating here. There are things I don’t like about this, and so I’m going to leave because I still something doesn’t feel right. 

Kevin Long: And so I can find some place that feels better, 

Adam McNair: right? And knowing that there are some things that because like nobody’s perfect, it’s possible that the program set up the manager, any number of things that they may not have known. It wasn’t intentional, but there’s also a lot of times where some sometimes there are contract differences and I’ve had programs before where two people were in different labor categories and they felt like they were doing the same job and they find out one of them makes more than the other or one of them has slightly different responsibility than the other. I’ve had people that, you know, one person’s hourly and one person is salaried, and they have kind of the same job, but there’s some fundamental differences to it that may not be apparent to them, and they feel like it’s this fairness thing. So the idea of, of, hey, we’re allowing this dialogue, talk to us about it, and we will engage on it, I think sometimes there might be some things going on that maybe somebody needed to be trained on or wasn’t aware of or wasn’t thinking through that lens, but sometimes there’s just. You know, well, why do I get to, to, you know, why, why can’t I work from home? I mean, this is obviously we don’t talk about this much anymore because we all do, but I’ve had situations before where they said, you know, what, why is it that, that, that they are allowed to work from home and I’m not. Because the work that they’re doing is on a network that can be accessed remotely, and the work you’re doing is on a network that can’t be accessed remotely, and that’s just a technical challenge, and if I had the opportunity to, I would change that, but unfortunately I can’t. Then all of a sudden they don’t come to work every day. And feel like something unfair is going on, they, they ask, they ask the question and they knew it was okay to ask it and it wasn’t just a, well, they’re complaining, you know, I think there’s a very old school thing that used to happen with the, you know, just show up and do your job and stop complaining about it. Um, and I think this is a really good step in, in the different direction. Um, I am curious to, to know, and this is from all of you, places that you’ve worked in the past. Um, like Victoria, at what, what extent, you know, places you’ve been before, did they have defined DEI programs? Were there, was it talked about? How did that, how did that look? 

Victoria Robinson: It’s interesting that you ask that because this was actually one of the big reasons that I decided to come to Highlight a couple months ago was that we had a more holistic approach to our employees in general. We have our DEI, we have career and leadership development programs. There’s, you know, we’re trying to invest back into our employees rather than just have a training simulation that you go through. Previous places of work. One was so small that people didn’t even think about diversity inclusion. We had interesting. Um, let’s say water cooler conversations about it. I wouldn’t say that they are very H. R. approved water cooler conversations. And then my pre my other previous employer. We did. I don’t think anyone ever talked about it, and it was a larger organization. You’re just like, in this day and age, you’re just kind of surprised when it doesn’t come up at all or that it’s not being talked about. Even at a, it’s mentioned somewhere on the employee internet kind of thing, and it was very enticing to me that we were talking about it. And then also that we have this. kind of work in progress mindset that we’re always going to adapt as employees need, are providing us feedback and also as times change, which in the last two years have changed tremendously, that we know that we need to continue to change as employees need it to be done. So, um, I remember when I was evaluating, as you were saying about recruiting, I was like, oh, they have this? This is great. I’m like, oh, We’re up with the times, you know, we’re talking about it and we’re acting in a positive way forward. But it’s, I 

Adam McNair: think that’s powerful and helpful, you know, feedback, certainly. Um, and I think it ties into a lot of things. And I think the initial experience, both when you’re looking at a company, but then also as you’re kind of going through that interview and all of that process. It’s great that that came forward that you could actually see it, you know, because I think sometimes there are things you don’t learn about an organization that you’ve been there a while. And so it’s nice that something that is important to us came forward. Fiona, what about, what about you? I, you know, we’ve worked together for a while now. Um, so, so I, you know, I know it’s been been a little while since you, you were someplace else, but what, what did, what had you seen as far as, you know, DEI out there? In a previous career. 

Fiona Sityar: Yeah. So when I was applying to highlight, I mean, truly it wasn’t top of mind at the time. It really has become a whole new level of, um, examination when you’re looking at different companies to look at just in the last couple of years. And I guess in my experience in my current role, I’m seeing that there’s going to continue to be a direct correlation between a company’s level of, or a level or perceived levels, I should say, of diversity, equity, and inclusion versus engagement, disengagement, or even retention, or I guess lack thereof. So. One of my recent focuses has been drawn to, um, accessibility and ensuring that that’s there. So making sure the employees know what resources and assets are available to them here at Highlight. And if they don’t, figuring out what’s not working, what communication channels can we take advantage of to make sure that that is arriving. To employees and that it’s at the forefront, um, and then pivoting what we’re doing in response. If that continues not to work. So 

Adam McNair: there are a lot of I will say that there’s a lot. There are a lot of things that we do that I think are frankly just very, very cool from a standpoint. And I think when you look at when we use Microsoft teams, like, as you were talking about a week or 2 ago, it has the closed caption feature. If somebody is hearing impaired and. You know, those are the kinds of things I, I have, you know, several friends who, who are either, you know, hearing impaired or use cochlear implants or so forth. And the, the idea of now everything is, is remote and, and all of that, just going forward. Turning closed caption on in teams is easy for us and can help people. I know we’ve had conversations. Some of the work that we do on some projects is 508 compliance for accessibility, and we’ve had some comments internally about, hey, when we have reports and things to try to make sure there’s a there’s an indicator. for color in addition to, if you’re going to have a red, yellow, green stoplight, have some, you know, other indicators so that if somebody is, is colorblind that they can see that. I think those are cool kinds of things. And like, I know none of them are earth shattering. Changing the, the colors on a report is not. In and of itself, this, you know, or shaking event, but it might be for one person or two people. And overall, it just is, it’s the mindset of before you do something, you ask yourself, how does this, how does this fit the employee? You know, community and does it does everybody going to, you know, going to be able to access this? And is it going to be helpful? Because as an example, you know, on the recruiting side, we have a lot of different places where we post our jobs and send them out to, and some of them are focused specifically on different socioeconomic communities, and some of them are geographically focused, and some of them are kind of job skill technically focused, and there’s, um, A certain amount of, um, the strategy hits there, but then at the point where people start to apply, they apply from wherever they apply from, and there’s not, there’s not really any, you know, traceability, but things like the, the geographic location where somebody applied are relevant for whether they can do the job if it’s in person or, or, or not. But if somebody was interested in moving, I know it has happened before, not specifically here, but I know in my career in the past. Somebody applies and they’re out of state. Somebody says, well, we don’t want to get involved in somebody moving. Well, there are parts of the country that might be looking for jobs elsewhere. And that’s a limiting factor for them. You know, another thing that we’ve talked about is when you’re going to screen resumes, do you drop the names off? And here’s, here’s a complicated factor about that. Recruiting systems are set up to have the person’s name as the master team. Key field that all the records attached to so you kind of can’t do it that way. And I think some of those things are an indication that the more you think about these kinds of topics, the more pervasively they can drive some, some other decisions. Because when you get down to the level where. It’s coded into the recruiting systems that you can’t drop somebody’s name out. And it would be easy enough to have a review feature where you don’t see somebody’s name until, you know, you decided that you, you qualified them or didn’t, but that’s just not a thing. That’s not a thing that’s, that’s in any of them right now. And so I think the things that we’re doing are helpful and the more that we think about it, because now when we talk to our vendors and ask them questions like that, you know, can we get this capability? It may not happen here, but eventually, you know, when they’re doing their next version, they go, Hey, look, it’d take a developer like six hours to put in this feature. We’ll just go ahead and do it. Why not? Um, I think that’s important. And you’re talking about, you know, we were still talking about diversity programs elsewhere. So Kevin, I’m, I’m guessing I kind of know, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of funny because, you know, Every place you’ve worked, I’ve worked for 15, 16 years now. Yeah. So, um, only one of us needs to answer, but so what, what, what, what’s your feeling about these kinds of programs or how you’ve seen them evolve over time? 

Kevin Long: Yeah, it’s, I feel a lot like Fiona, honestly, that, uh, at prior gigs, uh, what, uh, you know, so at prior gigs, corporate wide, I feel like it was always focused on preventing lawsuits and that’s it, right? Like, uh, every now and then there’d be like, Hey, we want to be able to say where we recruit a bunch of veterans. Hey, tick a box. Are you a veteran? Right. Or, you know, otherwise it was around, you know, don’t harass people and give us your EEOC information, right? Um, and. Within different business groups, I feel like there was some informal, uh, approach to some of this at some places that I’ve worked. But, uh, I think there’s power in the formalizing of it that we’re seeing around here that highlights doing that. It says, you know, this is who we are and this is what we’re doing. And so that’s it’s. It, it is definitely coming up more and more as, uh, you know, in the last couple of years and, you know, stepping out in front of it and, you know, owning what we do and who we are and saying, this is what it is, is it’s awesome. And, you know, I think, you know, it makes me proud to work where we do with. You know, I love what we stand for. So yeah, 

Adam McNair: absolutely. Me too. Um, well, you know, with that, I think that the overarching message really is that we’ve put a lot of work and specifically Fiona, but the team overall has put a lot of work into advancing. Diversity, equity and inclusion as part of part of the ethics and culture of the corporation. And there are a lot of tangible examples of how that’s going forward. But there are also just a lot of that’s that’s kind of a theme that underpins a lot of things that we do. And it continues to evolve. So as we wrap up, uh, Fiona is if if employees happen to be listening to this, what’s the best way for them to get information? About the program, uh, where, where should they go? What’s the best source of information? 

Fiona Sityar: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a diversity, equity and inclusion channel on teams. We’re hoping to use it more in the coming weeks, months. Um, but hoping to start continual dialogue on there and just keep the conversation going and hopefully get some fresh new ideas from our employees as well. And for a more, I guess, direct route to information, we’ve got the employee intranet. There’s a whole webpage dedicated entirely to highlight goals and the actions that we’re taking in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So I strongly suggest everyone. Internal at least to check those options out. Um, and HR is always available as well. Open door policy. 

Adam McNair: Fantastic. And so for anybody that’s not an employee, if you apply for one of our positions, our recruiting team has access to all of that information. And those are some of the things that we provide, uh, as just kind of about who we are. And, uh, for anybody else in industry, if you had any questions or wanted to talk about it, you can please, you can just. Feel free to reach out through our website, HighlightTech. com. We’re happy to Ask us about it. Ask us about it. We’re happy to talk about it. It’s something that we’ve, we’ve put a lot of, uh, a lot of work into and something that we’re proud of. So with that, thank you all again for listening to another episode of The Highlight Cast. And uh, thank you, Victoria. Thank you, Kevin. Thank you, Fiona. We will talk to you guys on the next episode. Goodbye. 

The views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect highlight technologies and or any agency of the U. S. government.

A Pirate Finally Sets Sail!!!

The journey all started when my parents took me to a Jimmy Buffet concert in the Summer of 1989. I always have loved the water and swimming, but that summer the dream expanded into a desire to own and live on a sailboat. Fast forward 3 decades, 3 kids, and 1 Pandemic later and I decided “If not now, when”.

In early 2020, It was seemingly the perfect time. We no longer needed a 4-bedroom house. My twin daughters were off at college, and it was just my son (Alden) and I. It was the perfect time to downsize and make the dream a reality.

The first step was finding a boat. We were searching for the perfect scenario for myself and Alden. A boat where we could both have our own space, that was affordable and safe. After several months of searching, we found Sallie C, a 41-foot 2 cabin Jeanneau Sun Legend. The safe, sturdy older Sloop checked all the boxes. We met with the owners and we closed the deal a few weeks later.

The next step was downsizing. We no longer needed all the furniture and stuff you can accumulate in a 4-bedroom house. This was truly a challenge. I never realized how much stuff we had that we really didn’t need until I started purging. It was so satisfying and liberating to sell and donate all the furniture and items we didn’t need. When boat move-in day came, we still had WAY too much to fit. We spent the first few weeks prioritizing what we really needed, and what could be put in storage or donate.

Lastly, was sorting out work for myself and school for my son. As a Talent Acquisition Lead my position can be done fully remote by Teams, Zoom, a Laptop, and a Phone. My son has been attending school virtually. We have Wi-Fi hotspots set up so we can work from the navigation table (the desk), the settee (the couch), or the cockpit (the porch) without the worry of being at the dock, on the water, or at anchor.

I’m appreciative all those at Highlight that have supported this dream and have enjoyed the backgrounds I’ve shared during our Teams calls. On our recent 1000 mile passage to Florida, we were able to share the experience with the team as we traveled. Thank you to Matt, Mary, Adam, and Rebecca for all of your support.

The dream of boat life has become a reality. I can truly say that I have not regretted the decision for a minute. No buyer’s remorse, no second thoughts, just the fun of boat life and boat projects (There are always boat projects ????). Living and working on the water is what I had always dreamed it would be. It’s peaceful and beautiful and a truly amazing experience. It’s a blessing to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of my surroundings, with the hatch open in nice weather or by closing the hatch and turning up the heat on the cooler days.

2020 was supposed to be a year to forget, but I took a different approach and made it a year to remember. It ended up being an amazing year both personally and professionally.

Greg Wathen | Senior Talent Acquistion Leader

Utilizing CIO-SP3

Do you need Federal IT services for your agency? Unsure how to obtain services through CIO-SP3? In this article, you can learn more about how to utilize CIO-SP3 and the benefits.

CIO-SP3 Banner

What is CIO-SP3? 

CIO-SP3 Best in Class (BIC) Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) is a ten-year Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract managed by the NIH NITAAC offering world-class professional technology, solutions, and services. CIO-SP3 spans ten task order areas offering 137 labor categories in support of everything IT. CIO-SP3 segments into two tracks of Small Business and 8(a).

The period of performance for CIO-SP3 is 06/01/2012 to 05/13/2022.

Task Order Areas 

  • Task Area 1 – IT Services for Biomedical Research, Health Services, and Healthcare
  • Task Area 2 – Chief Information Officer (CIO) Support
  • Task Area 3 – Imaging
  • Task Area 4 – Outsourcing
  • Task Area 5 – IT Operations and Maintenance
  • Task Area 6 – Integration Services
  • Task Area 7 – Critical Infrastructure Protection and Information Assurance
  • Task Area 8 – Digital Government
  • Task Area 9 – Enterprise Resource Planning
  • Task Area 10 – Software Development

Benefits of CIO-SP3 


CIO-SP3 offers all Federal Agencies the accessibility and flexibility to obtain IT services from pre-vetted contractors across ten task order areas. The e-GOS system streamlines the RFP process for start-to-finish task order management. Customers have the flexibility to determine the contract type at the task order level, including the opportunity to include cost reimbursement. CIO-SP3 pairs efficiency with accessibility to ensure the best IT solution for the customer mission.


CIO-SP3 cuts out the guesswork for Federal IT services. In partnership with NITAAC, customers utilize the secure web-based e-GOS system to manage the entire RFP process to get the work started and completed faster. Under CIO-SP3 8(a) track, agencies can provide sole source awards up to $4 million, allowing customers to skip managing multiple contractors to streamline communication and services through one provider.


Is your team worried about Budget Constraints? Customers can be at ease. Customers can access the vehicle for a low access fee of .55%. All pricing is pre-negotiated, providing lower costs than the open market and less than or equal to GSA.

Work with Highlight 

Highlight has provided comprehensive IT solutions to over 20 federal government customers. Our dedication to quality sets us apart. Our HI-WAY™ quality framework combines our experience and seven certifications to ensure solutions that minimize risk and maximize results. Our contract vehicle portfolio allows our team to provide accessible mission services.

Highlight is a proud contract holder of CIO-SP3. Highlight holds contracts within both the 8(a) and Small business groups with the capability to service customers across all ten task order areas. CIO-SP3 provides customers with a convenient, efficient, and cost-effective way to obtain IT services.

Learn more: https://highlightdev.wpengine.com/contract-vehicles/cio-sp3-small-business/

Author: Emilie Scantlebury | Senior Business Manager

Highlight Graduates its Second Leadership Development Cohort

In February 2021, Highlight graduated its 2021 class of its Leadership Development program. This 2021 cohort consisted of 11 employees who support customers across the federal government, including the Small Business Administration (SBA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Army, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of State, and Highlight’s corporate office.

The Leadership Development Program is a competitive and rigorous internal program designed for emerging leaders within the company to develop the skills required to advance as a leader. The six-month program provides employees the opportunity to develop their leadership style and skills, learn more about Highlight and the government contracting industry at large, and conduct a case study as a team.

The Leadership Development Program teaches participants how to be effective leaders, ways they can advance their careers, and how Highlight programs are led and managed. Previous program graduates have been promoted to Highlight management roles within the SBA and Department of Defense.

“Highlight is fortunate to have these talented and hard-working employees on our team. I commend each of them for doing the work to build their leadership abilities, develop relationships across the company, and learn about our company and industry. I am excited to see what’s next for them in their careers,” said Rebecca Andino, Highlight CEO.


Some of the graduates said the following about the program:

“I never thought that parts of my personality could make me a great leader. I have a love for people and have always led with more of a commitment to teamwork and empathy. For most of my career, my need to take care of others was deemed a weakness for leadership. I learned during the Leadership Development Program that, while I am an affirming leader, that I have the capability to stretch myself beyond my leadership dimension without losing who I am at the core.

Being a part of this program has also taught me how to effectively work with other leadership types and how we can get the best out of each other. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity Highlight has extended to me and I am excited to use all the tools discovered in the Leadership Development Program,” said Tammy P., Leadership Development Program Graduate.

“The Leadership Development Program was a refreshing experience in a world of uncertainties when dealing with different personalities in a daily work environment. I am now equipped with the tools to adapt and lead in whatever circumstance that may come to the surface in the workplace. The case study was very relatable to the new modern work environment that we now live in. I believe working through the case study materials and white paper with my group/partner gave a sense of accomplishment and put an exclamation mark on the completion of the course,” said Zayd A., Leadership Development Program Graduate.


About Highlight

Highlight is an award-winning woman-owned ISO® 9001, ISO 20000. ISO 27001, ISO 44001, ISO 56002 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised woman-owned small business that provides critical services to more than 20 U.S. federal government customers. Using our HI-WAY™™ best practices framework, we design and deliver solutions that integrate current systems and procedures, address all stakeholders, and seamlessly advance the mission. With over 10 years of federal contracting experience, we apply our proven transformation and evolution process to deliver quality services that balance agility, continuity, security, and compliance. To learn more, visit highlighttech.com.


Creating and Maintaining Access Controls

Information sharing continues to become more complex. We utilize information sharing every day to streamline operations in our organizations. We want our information to be accessible, secure, and sharable. However, some information is not for everyone’s eyes.

The solution to this complex problem is Access Controls.

Access controls secure, control, and manage information sharing with internal and external users. In a world connected to the internet, our information is more vulnerable than ever. By establishing access controls, your organization’s data is protected from unapproved users.

There are two core fundamental aspects to achieve effective Access Controls – authentication, and authorization to identify, verify, and categorize user access.


Authentication confirms user’s identity. Authentication comes in multiple forms. The most common form is password- based authentication utilizing usernames and passwords. Another popular form is two-factor authentication, requiring the user to provide more than one form of identification. Most commonly a user signs into a platform utilizing a username and password then a second form such as a code sent to a mobile device, fingerprints, or facial recognition confirms the user’s identity. The most complex authentication form is multi-factor authentication consisting of at least 3 or more authentication factors. Once a user identity is authenticated, authorization enables user access.


Authorization determines what each user can access or edit. Authorization can be organized in different ways. Each user can be given specialized permissions within the digital space. Most commonly, user groups are created to help streamline the authorization process to ensure team members have equal access.

Access Control Types

To further the effectiveness of Access Control Systems, a model is chosen based on the organization’s needs. Discretionary Access Controls (DAC) relies on the data owner or creator to determine user access. Mandatory Access Controls (MAC) consists of a non-discretionary model where user access is determined based on information clearance determined by the organization. Role Based Access Control (RBAC) is the most common model utilized today, data access is determined by what is necessary for that role. Attribute Based Access Control (AAC) where user access is determined by the relationship between different identifying attributes between the data, organization, and the user.

The world has transformed to a reliance on a remote workforce. This has driven thousands online to share data to perform daily tasks. Access Controls help to meet the needs of every organization to not only protect and manage data but to drive productivity and improve user experience.

Author: Victoria Robinson | Marketing Manager

Government Agencies Must Master Digital Citizen Engagement in 2021

Government agencies must continue to step up digital communications and outreach strategies in 2021, incorporating the breakthrough lessons learned in response to global pandemic challenges.

Collectively, we’ve “vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption,” reports McKinsey Digital. Past engagement patterns are no longer the norm. Government communicators must respond in new ways to meet the needs of work-at-home employees and digital-savvy citizens.

A lot changed in 2020. In-person events were restructured as virtual seminars, meetings and training sessions – for both employees and external stakeholders. Social media, email and training platforms were purchased to improve engagement, targeting and service delivery. Chatbots were created to to more swiftly answer end-user questions in real time. Website tools were developed to provide on-demand interactions.

At the same time, customer acceptance of digital interactions leapt forward. Accenture finds that 78 percent of citizens see the benefits of using virtual agents to receive services from a government agency. A majority (84 percent) are open to sharing personally identifiable information in exchange for more personalized experiences.

In 2021, digital content expectations will continue to rise. The communications landscape is changed forever.

“By continuing to go digital, agencies can streamline operations, become more agile and better meet the needs of employees and citizens,” writes Brian Chidester in Nextgov.

It’s Time for Government to Think of Users as Customers

With or without a lingering pandemic throughout 2021, agency communications specialists must continue to build better digital engagement strategies for stakeholders. That starts with thinking more analytically about government users as customers.

“Customer data is going to become an increasingly precious commodity,” according to new insights from a Content Marketing Institute (CMI) report. Although focused on the business-to-consumer (B2C) community, the CMI report provides valuable advice to government communicators.

“As we saw from this year’s research, building credibility and trust is a huge goal for content marketing now,” said Robert Rose, the report’s author. “You’ll need the data in order to know where and how to be trustworthy. But you’ll need to be trustworthy in order to get the data. If that sounds like a Catch-22, it is. But delivering value to audiences before they become customers is the way out of it.”

At issue, based on the CMI survey, is that while 63 percent of B2C marketers changed their targeting and messaging strategies, only 34 percent re-examined their customer journeys. Also, only 26 percent increased time spent talking with customers; a mere 18 percent revisited customer personas, which use quantitative and qualitative data to help define specific customer profiles and needs.

Insights on what audiences want from digital content is lacking. And while trusting relationships are built on having great audience insights, content shops are, unfortunately, “data rich and insight poor,” added Jacqueline Loch, a customer innovation expert with St. Joseph Communications, Canada. Loch was a presenter at CMI’s Content Marketing World 2020 conference.

Such insights are vital, agreed Eric Goodstadt, the president of Manifest. Also speaking at CMI’s event, Goodstadt said that “trust starts with knowing the user, by leveraging data to drive information that’s relevant to the user’s situation.”

Converting Data Into Engagement

Making sense of the data requires a deeper dive. Loch provided some essential questions that communications and outreach professionals should ask and answer about their audiences:

·       What does the audience like, feel and trust about your content?

·       How do we know if we’re fulfilling their needs?

·       How do we know if we’re furthering our relationship?

·       How do we know if the content is achieving the goals?

Finally, it’s essential to serve our audiences the right content, at the right time and in the right context. This includes identifying and creating content for critical learning moments throughout the customer journey.

For example: Is content available for initial introduction or discovery for those who are not familiar with our services? Do we go beyond to provide interactive experiences for citizens ready for further exploration? Do we help with more advanced adaption and mastery for more advanced users?

Think of content more as a utility, not a commodity, said Andrew Wheeler, CEO of Skyword, a content strategy company.

There is an overabundance of content to bring people into the top of the consideration funnel, where customers and citizens first become aware of a service or product. But content dramatically decreasing as you go down the conversion funnel, said Wheeler at Content World, even though customers have real needs to learn more or even begin to experience the product or service.

“We are short-selling our customers,” he said. “We need to work harder to grow the relationships we already have.”

As content creators, we must work harder in 2021 to understand our audiences and identify critical learning moments. Only by knowing their unique pain points, needs and levels of understanding can we build the deeper digital relationships that today’s customers now demand.

Author: Barry Lawrence | Senior Communications Consultant