NCI zeroes in on artificial intelligence

By Marjorie Censer  / June 19, 2018

IT services contractor NCI is today launching an artificial intelligence technology meant to help the government address mundane and repetitive tasks, from data entry to service desk support.

The product, which is known as Shai, or Scaling Humans with Artificial Intelligence, is part of a broader strategic shift for the company, Paul Dillahay, NCI's chief executive, told Inside Defense this week.

In an interview at NCI's Reston headquarters, Dillahay said that when he became CEO in late 2016, he found a company that was having trouble standing out from the crowd.

"I thought we had some really nice portfolio programs, but I also thought we weren't very differentiated," he said. "We were kind of in a difficult place to deliver impactful organic growth."

Dillahay said he saw an opportunity in robotic process automation and set out to find a potential partner.

Last year, NCI announced it had entered an exclusive partnership with CrossChx, an Ohio-based company specializing in artificial intelligence for the healthcare industry. Early this year, NCI said it had hired Brad Mascho, one of the founders of CrossChx, to serve as its chief artificial intelligence officer.

Dillahay said NCI's Shai technology, which allows it to sell AI as a service, is geared toward both prime system integrators as well as the federal government. He touted that the technology was coded in the United States, making it able to meet agencies' security requirements.

He said NCI sees Shai as a way for agencies to improve efficiencies and allow workers to focus on the more complex tasks that require human intervention. Mascho added during the same interview that NCI has built out many potential use cases.

Dillahay said much of AI has been focused on more complicated tasks, but that there's significant opportunity in everyday processes.

"Here we have a chance to do the mundane, repetitive tasks -- automate them in a way that the outcomes are phenomenal," he said.

Dillahay said NCI has about a dozen bids in evaluation that include AI. In some cases, NCI bids AI as an element on a proposal for a more traditional services contract; in others, NCI is responding to an AI request for proposals. However, he acknowledged NCI has "no live instance" of AI in the government today.