Raj Parameswaran is the President of US Federal Information Technology at Maximus, where he has led federal technology strategies and solutions since joining the team in May 2015. Prior to joining Maximus, he was the CEO of Optimos and garnered extensive experience with the architecture and delivery of enterprise solutions to drive agency-wide transformation initiatives. Raj received a BS in electronics and an MS degree in information systems.
Trained as a general technologist—with degrees in electronics, information systems and cost accounting—Raj has always been a staunch believer in applying proven technologies to advance a company’s mission and enable positive change. Now, at Maximus, he helps build technological solutions for the public sector that are designed to make state, local and federal agencies more streamlined, effective and responsive. The company has three core initiatives:
Together, these initiatives comprise what Raj calls an informed and validated hyper-automation system. This enables agencies to focus as much as possible on their core mission, rather than extraneous and distracting elements.
Maximus measures its customer experiences by two factors: quality and efficiency. AI is a critical factor behind success on both fronts.
For instance, Maximus provides independent medical assessments and examinations as part of its health programs. Historically, a single claim could involve hundreds or thousands of pages of medical records, including images and data; this would take healthcare workers days or weeks to sort through. To streamline this process, Maximus implemented an AI solution capable of rapidly combing through these documents and bringing the most important information to the forefront. This means records can be processed in minutes or hours, making the claims process more efficient—and empowering healthcare professionals to focus on caring for patients, rather than reading paperwork.
As the pandemic swept the nation, continuity of critical government services was paramount. Federal agencies and departments like Maximus were tasked with pivoting essentially overnight to determine new strategies and plans to ensure cohesion and meet new needs.
For Maximus, one tool in the toolbox was its Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA), powered by Interactions. The IVA can manage an influx of inquiries and requests, ensuring that callers get the answers they need without being put on frustrating, indefinite holds. Throughout the pandemic, Maximus leveraged the technology to manage some of its most crucial and timely tasks, such as delivery of COVID-19 test results, test kits and vaccines. While trained live agents helped provide advanced customer support as needed, the AI-powered IVA was on the front lines of providing seamless engagement and ensuring business continuity in a chaotic time.
Most people have already experienced AI in their day-to-day lives—even if they’re not aware of it. And according to Raj, AI will only expand and evolve over time due to culture, policy and advances in technology. But a critical part of enabling that evolution, and making it one that’s beneficial to everyday people, will be ensuring the integrity of the data lifecycle. AI models need to be fueled with the right data in order to provide outcomes we can trust, and to make all of our lives better and easier.
EPISODE 38: Raj Parameswaran
Jim Freeze Hi! And welcome. I’m Jim Freeze, and this is The ConversAItion, a podcast airing viewpoints on the impact of artificial intelligence on business and society.
Jim Freeze Today, we’re coming to you with a special bonus episode of The ConversAItion—and we’re doing something a bit different. Most of our guests from the first six seasons have hailed from companies focused on the private sector. But in this episode, we’re going to talk about how AI can be deployed in the public sector to make government agencies run more efficiently, and ultimately improve our experience as citizens.
To dive into this important topic, we’re joined by Raj Parameswaran, President of U.S. Federal Information Technology at Maximus, a leading provider of government services and an Interactions customer. Raj is here to talk about how technology can help streamline government operations, enable efficient service delivery and create better, more productive citizen experience.
Raj, welcome to The ConversAItion.
Raj Parameswaran Great to be here Jim and again, thank you for the opportunity.
Jim Freeze We’re thrilled to have you. So you have deep roots in the government technology space. Prior to joining Maximus, you were the CEO of a mid-sized strategy and enterprise IT solution provider that focused on providing services to the federal government, and I think that company was acquired by Maximus.
So can you walk us through your background? What opportunities did you see for expansion of technology into the federal government?
Raj Parameswaran Absolutely. Quick snapshot of my background just for us to level set. I have an undergrad degree in electronics with masters in information systems, and along the way I also did get a postgraduate diploma in cost accounting. Don’t ask me why.
Jim Freeze Ah I’m sure the cost accounting is very helpful.
Raj Parameswaran It is. And my passion as a technologist helps me evaluate the value of applying technology to how we service businesses right now. I’ll come to that along the conversation that we have today. Truly my passion as a technologist has always been, and remains focused on, how to best use and apply technology to solve the business problems that we are faced with and to enable an organization’s mission.
I’ve been fortunate to have a great career. But I actually started as an individual contributor at a company called Optimos and progressively over the years became the leader as a CEO of the company, where I led the growth and strategy for being one of the leading providers of enterprise solutions to the public sector.
I joined Maximus through that acquisition. Which, in hindsight when I think about it, was the absolute perfect outcome for everything we did as a smaller organization to get into a larger platform. Having said that, to your other question about expansion of technology, the way I view the governments, as we all can agree, it is the largest enterprise in the world that has several core mission functions that are critical, I believe, to serving their respective people across the countries across the globe. My view of technology, truly, is that it serves as the foundation to enabling the delivery of those services. Which in many cases are critical and it needs to be optimized from a delivery standpoint.
So as an example, if I have to reflect back over my career, I’ll give you one example that actually dates back 15+ years, where there used to be a requirement for a veteran to go get a DD214, which is their service discharge record from the national archives. Can you imagine? It used to take about 15-18 weeks to get that.
Jim Freeze Wow.
Raj Parameswaran And we ended up architecting a solution and implementing it about an year and a half into the program and it now delivers the veterans DD214 to their address, or to their kin, in about 3 to 5 business days. In fact, if there is an emergency for some reason, they can deliver this in 24 to 48 hours. That for me makes a huge difference in how we service our people.
Jim Freeze Yeah, you talk about citizen experience, I mean that’s fantastic. That’s a great example. Could you talk a little bit about what your current role is, and some of the initiatives you oversee?
Raj Parameswaran Oh sure. So as a Federal IT leader for Maximus, my team and I have just one objective. I want to keep it simple. Our objective is to ensure that we are architecting, enabling and operating technology solutions that are optimized for our federal programs.
And when I say optimized, I truly mean ensuring that it’s aligned to the mission, it’s effective in the purpose for what it serves for the program, and it’s secure, which in today’s day and age, cybersecurity is at the forefront of anything we do on the technology front.
There’s a slew of initiatives internally, Jim, that we are constantly looking at because every agency’s requirements and needs are slightly different. But if I have to put a wrapper around some of the core initiatives that we are focused around that would be modernization, which is really driven by enabling agencies to adopt cloud as a platform, as a software service, as an infrastructure service, so they are getting away from the non-core elements of their mission and focused more on the mission. The second component is really about finding better, effective ways of enhancing the customer experience, which obviously is a critical component for how services are delivered. The third one is more along the lines of data management and analytics which really is helping drive agencies make informed decisions and not have to sift through petabytes of data to come to a decision.
And all of that adds up to what I call internally as I reference this with my team as an informed and validated hyper automation solution. So you know we have a lot of RPA bots deployed in our programs, for our internal administrative functions. The most important part of all of those RPA and AI applications is the fact that it needs to be informed and it needs to be a validated baseline for how it operates and supports the core mission.
Jim Freeze That’s fantastic and actually what you went through is a great segue for what’s happened during the last couple years. I mean, demand for citizen services skyrocketed during the pandemic to address everything from contact tracing, to vaccine distribution, to distribution of funds to people through the CARES Act
How did technology solutions like, as an example, the one that we’re familiar with at Interactions, the Maximus AI-powered Intelligent Virtual Assistant, how did all of that help manage this influx of demand?
Raj Parameswaran Let me start with saying, wow, talk about human resilience.
I say that because as we can all agree, we did find ourselves in a bit of a quandary with a pandemic. No one really anticipated the type of change we all faced, the impact that the situation forced us into.
In fact, we had to pivot in a matter of days to ensure continuity of critical government services Jim. And I literally mean days right? Imagine, we were actually housed in facilities supporting all these sensitive programs and we had to, overnight, figure out strategies and plans to make sure we can do that. Technology played a huge role. We spent days and nights, but it was fun doing that. And we actually accomplished a lot more than we generally would have in a normal sense.
With the pandemic, we at Maximus were at the forefront of many, many federal government departments and agencies—both state and federal government by the way—at the beginning of the pandemic. We were engaged to manage the delivery of test results to people. Talk about standing up an entire solution set in a matter of four days to be able to receive the results from the various labs, and be able to deliver them effectively to the people. Followed by assisting people when the vaccines were made available to find the nearest delivery location. That was enabled through multiple channels: voice, text-enabled, SMS, WhatsApp, the portal.
I mean, the most extreme end, where people necessarily didn’t have jobs because everything was shut down, to be able to provide the most important and address the most important inquiries and requests that came as part of the CARES Act.
Now as we can imagine, the influx of inquiries and requests that this generated was just overwhelming where people sometimes on calls were on very long hold times. So, as an example, on the CARES Act the Maximus IVA, as we call it, was truly put to test. And I think it delivered the highest results in my viewpoint and I’ll tell you why. First and foremost, we were able to tailor and create a solution that was deployed in a matter of weeks. Tell me where that generally happens, right?
Jim Freeze It doesn’t.
Raj Parameswaran Exactly. And then the platform engaged with the callers in a manner where it was just seamless, where they were provided guided assistance as any other trained agent would have, right? So we had some trained agents who would provide the advanced support. But the platform at the forefront was handling so many of the calls effectively to service them and make sure they were actually not just waiting and on hold. And if you think about it, the platform not only just responded to requests, it actually understood the request in terms of the context and then provided the assistance. In my view, that is really powerful and extremely efficient.
Jim Freeze Absolutely. You know what? On a similar note, you’ve been talking about how a top priority for Maximus is working with the government to enhance the way agencies engage with citizens. What role does AI play in achieving that, and can you give maybe a specific example of how technology might directly impact a citizen experience?
Raj Parameswaran Sure. So let me start with saying Maximus I consider to be one of the leading servicers, on behalf of government programs globally across multiple countries right? Ensuring that the best experience is delivered on every interaction or engagement, that is the mark of how we get measured on every single one of our programs.
Now if you think about it, there are two critical components to that: one is quality, and the other one is timeliness. How effectively and efficiently can you service a particular request or an inquiry, regardless of the time. If somebody is busy doing work and they are calling after hours, we still want to be able to deliver the service that they are requesting or answer their inquiry.
Automation and AI actually plays a significant role in achieving this goal in my viewpoint. And just to give you a quick data point: as part of our health programs, we provide independent medical assessments and examinations for programs. For example, a UI claim comes in at the state level, or an appeal for a healthcare claim was denied. So in these scenarios, as we provide support for these programs, we end up receiving a significant amount of unstructured image data. They’re just pictures of medical records, and they are sometimes in hundreds of pages, to some cases that are thousands of pages.
So we had to implement a solution which basically helped bring the most relevant information to the forefront. So we implemented an AI-enabled solution that understands the context of the medical records in reference to the claim that was made and it creates a version that’s just more consumable for our healthcare workers. The healthcare workers are the doctors who are doing these independent assessments. The task that would have taken them or have taken them in the past years several weeks to sift through,days in some cases, to review all those pages and make an optimal determination, now the system is making that information available to them so that they can be consumed in minutes or hours. It’s a huge transition to how the medical providers were dealing with the amount of medical records, to how they actually do this today. That’s a classic example of how AI helped get that to the forefront.
Jim Freeze That’s a fantastic example because you’re talking about, especially during a pandemic, being able to free up the time of healthcare professionals to actually provide healthcare. I can’t imagine a more important application for AI. So that’s a great example.
I kind of teed this up in the introduction of this episode; so far most of our guests through six seasons have fit squarely in the private sector talking about applications of AI. And they’re fascinating applications, but you’re focused on deploying technology in the public sector. From your perspective, what are the biggest differences in deployment between public versus versus private?
Raj Parameswaran That’s an interesting question. And truly Jim, you’ve had some phenomenal guests on your previous episodes. I’ve heard a few of them.
Jim Freeze Oh thank you.
Raj Parameswaran I’m not sure I would consider myself an expert in the private sector space given my focus predominantly has been in the public sector space that I’m very intimately familiar with.
But having said that, Maximus itself as an entity is a private sector enterprise. And from that point of view, I can provide you with a couple of differences.
One of them is, there is a slightly higher entrepreneurial spirit in terms of applying technologies, in terms of testing the application of technologies internally to support our programs. There’s a little bit more of an approach that you are able to do or take than in the public sector space.
The other key difference in my viewpoint is the drivers behind the technology investments, and the adoption, is actually radically different between the private sector and the public sector. In the private sector, it’s all about how can I drive my revenue? Which is the core driving factor. In the public sector space, how can I deliver this most critical and important service that is requested by a citizen or a constituent to them in the most effective and timely manner?
So the driving factors behind the investments are different, and the implications of testing some of these things also become a factor to how these implementations or deployments happen between the private and public sector.
Jim Freeze That’s great. So last question I have for you: I know you serve as one of Maximus’ technology innovation leaders, focused on the government market and you have a strong point of view about the future.
So one of the things we always like to ask guests is to kind of give a little bit of a soothsayer and look into the future. So, I’d love to get your take where you see AI headed in the future. What are the areas for opportunity to expand AI, specifically in the government over the next five to ten years?
Raj Parameswaran That’s a great question. I’ll start with saying, I think I can make this statement: every one of us, if not everyone then most of us, have definitely experienced without our knowledge some form of AI that’s working behind the scenes in our day-to-day lives. As much as I am a staunch believer—a passionate staunch believer—of applying any and all greatest proven technologies to enabling business objectives and missions, I am not for finding home for technology just because it’s identified in a magic quadrant. I have strong opinions about some great technology that has very specific application areas. But I don’t foresee some of the technologies ever making big in the public sector.
However, the AI aspect of things is definitely, in my viewpoint, a technology that will stay and expand. The applications of them, however, need to evolve over time to be driven based on things like the culture, the trust and transparency factor, the policies that drive the use, the maturity of the functions itself. When I say function, I’m talking about a function within a mission that’s delivered. What, in that function, in terms of application areas can AI augment the speed at which those services need to be delivered.
And last but not least I feel this is the most important actually, in the world of AI, is to ensure data lifecycle integrity. Algorithms that are available today will be democratized at some point. There are several great algorithms out there that can be applied, that can be leveraged, that can be integrated with through API interfaces, and there are a group of brilliant smart mathematicians out there who will come up with more of those. But at the end of the day with every single one of those, data is going to be the core essence to how well that particular model is going to actually provide the outcomes that we can trust, we can transparently disclose and we can leverage to make the lives better and nicer for all of us.
Jim Freeze That’s terrific. Well Raj, thank you so much for joining us today. Some fantastic insights. It’s really been fascinating to dive into the public sector and hear how AI can make government more efficient, especially in times of crisis and beyond. So thank you so much for joining us.
Raj Parameswaran Great to be here. Thanks Jim.
Jim Freeze That’s all for this special bonus episode of The ConversAItion; thank you all for tuning in. We’re looking forward to bringing you the seventh season of the podcast this fall, and we hope you will join us then.
This episode of The ConversAItion podcast was produced by Interactions, a conversational AI company. I’m Jim Freeze, signing off, and we’ll see you next time.