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For Unanet’s CIO, the Focus Is on Arming GovCons With AI Solutions

When Steve Karp stepped into the role of chief innovation officer for government contractor-focused software company Unanet, he did so knowing that a big part of the job would be continuing to push the envelope to give GovCons more of the intelligent tools they need to deliver superior project outcomes and, ultimately, grow their businesses in today’s opportunity-rich but highly-competitive business environment.

Drawing from more than three decades experience in the Software-as-a-Service, financial technology and payments industries, Karp sat down with us to share his perspective on the amazing things artificial intelligence can do for government contractors, the fundamentals GovCon firms must have in place to successfully integrate AI into their businesses and the exciting new possibilities for firms to leverage AI in the context of their enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management platforms.

What are some of the most formidable barriers that government contractors face as they begin — or continue — their AI implementation journeys?

A couple of challenges come to mind. The first has to do with mindset. Before you begin to implement AI tools, it’s essential to underscore the importance of your team’s human expertise. AI is designed to enhance and supplement their efforts — and their expertise is at the core of this integration.

Once you’ve acknowledged the value of human insight first and foremost, you can approach AI as you would any new technology: with an intense focus on identifying and understanding unmet customer needs that the technology may be particularly well-suited to solve. As ambitious as your ultimate plans for AI may be, you first want to gain confidence in and comfort with the technology. So begin the journey with a proof-of-concept project or two to gauge how AI performs in relatively narrow use cases. Then, you can determine whether and how to iterate and scale AI into other parts of your business.

Finally, you must address data quality within your firm. AI models depend on trustworthy, relevant, complete and fresh data to learn and deliver valuable, actionable insight. And the insight these models produce are only as good as the data that feeds them. So among the first steps for a firm on its AI journey should be to honestly assess how strong their data — and their stewardship of that data — is, then take steps to shore up areas that need it.

What kind of tools and technologies can organizations use, and what steps can they take, to get a better handle on, and be better stewards of, their data, so they’re well-positioned to take advantage of AI?

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT are fun to use in our day-to-day lives, but for government contractors, AI has to prove its value in a real business context. That’s really the endgame.

Getting there means providing the AI models you’re using with rich, deep and domain-relevant data. More specifically, that means treating data like the valuable asset it is by ensuring you have the means to collect it, standardize it wherever possible and store it in an accessible but secure reservoir that serves the entire business.

Firms need a single, integrated digital environment rather than a patchwork of siloed systems and a reliance on a lot of repetitive, error-prone manual processes. Having well-established, automation-enabled and universally-followed business processes for managing data across the business also helps.

These fundamentals aren’t just critical prerequisites for AI, they’re imperative for running a high-performing GovCon business today.

Where do you think AI is headed next, particularly as it’s used inside a government contracting business? What do you see on the horizon?

The possibilities really are boundless. Looking at our own product roadmap here at Unanet, the capabilities and use cases that we already have in the pipeline or are just now conceptualizing are really exciting. And as fast as AI technology is advancing and the models behind it are learning, it seems like we’re seeing ideas for new, viable business applications for AI emerge almost daily.

As far as what’s on the horizon or already here, how about AI capabilities on the finance and accounting side that automate invoice management and payment? I’m excited about the next generation of accounts receivable, or AR, and accounts payable, or AP, automation tools — they improve the customer experience, take manual work off people’s plates, and help firms get paid and make payments more efficiently, securely and accurately. On the business development side, how about using genAI to research a potential client and automatically create a company record in your CRM database based on its findings?

We’re not far from GovCons being able to use AI to help identify which business opportunities they should pursue and to predict the likelihood of winning specific pursuits. Same goes for AI tools that predict a firm’s supply chain and labor issues. I truly believe we’re just scratching the surface in terms of AI use cases that make doing business much easier for GovCon firms.

Based on what you’ve observed with Unanet’s government contractor customers, what are some keys to integrating AI successfully and sustainably into a GovCon business?

We just finished our annual Champions event for customers, and as you’d expect, there was a ton of discussion about AI. Those customer conversations, along with our own experience here at Unanet integrating AI into our business processes, have been pretty enlightening as far as best practices to set the stage for a successful journey with AI.

As I mentioned earlier, having the right mindset and a good handle on your data are critical, as is starting small, with use cases that are technically feasible, map to a well-defined business need or problem, align with your business goals and project to add enough value to the business to justify the investment. Once you identify use cases, do your due diligence to assess the tools available for those use cases, as well as the provider of those tools. You want to be comfortable not just with the quality and scalability of the solution, but also with the quality of support you’ll get from the AI solution provider. Also, as part of the process, you’ll want to put AI ethics and governance policies and processes in place.

Once you’ve checked these boxes, start piloting with a proof-of-concept, setting goals and establishing KPIs for how you’ll measure success. One area of focus should be getting your team excited, engaged and enabled, explaining the rationale behind the program, providing training, and encouraging them to experiment with the tool. Gather feedback about the user experience, measure the effectiveness of the tool relative to your KPIs and goals, and work with the provider of the AI tool to refine the model as needed. And be alert to opportunities to scale and apply the tool elsewhere in the business. These pilot projects can uncover really compelling AI use cases you may never have imagined.

For more information on how Unanet is integrating AI into their GovCon solutions, visit

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