Operating a network is one of the most resource-intensive IT functions within any government agency. Whether it’s ongoing maintenance, moving workloads to the cloud or deploying new services, each step requires attention to detail and countless hours of planning and execution.

The goal for government agencies should be to create a “self-driving network” — one that requires less human intervention and enables agencies to focus on more strategic initiatives. One of the ways that government agencies are getting closer to this goal is by turning to bots: software that automates complex tasks and can help agencies spend less time managing manual network knobs and levers and more time focused on their mission.

Bots are battling a negative connotation at the moment because the public associates them with malfeasance in the 2016 election cycle or misuse by some brands on social media to boost their engagement and following. However, when used properly, bots have the potential to change the way we work and how networks operate, turning complex, labor-intensive tasks into rudimentary functions performed by machines.

Networks are becoming more complex due to the rise of diverse operating conditions that must serve a multitude of applications that often reside across multiple clouds. As a result, bots are becoming increasingly vital.

As agencies invest in scaling infrastructure cost-effectively to meet citizen demands, complex programming languages that require highly skilled developers have been the only way to automate, which has led to only small strides in simplifying human-to-machine interaction and slower network automation adoption. In fact, in a recent study, IT leaders selected the biggest barriers to automation as follows:

  • 43 percent noted that a lack of internal education and skillsets prevents the adoption of network automation.
  • 33 percent of respondents also cited the lack of an integrated end-to-end solution as a barrier to network automation efforts.

Compounding the issue, network operators have traditionally only been able to analyze a small portion of all the network data available due to technology shortfalls and, for decades, networking has largely been an exercise in precisely specifying behavior, one configuration knob at a time, device by device.

Bots can help solve these problems. Bots comprise a growing ecosystem of new software applications focused on intent and analytics that automate workflows and break the cycle of human error. The bots incorporate real-time analytics that are designed to translate higher-level business requirements (the “what”) into automatic configuration changes across the network (the “how”). They reduce complexity and simplify networks, enable agencies to deploy new network services faster and improve capacity and network resiliency.

For example, a bot can automate the traditionally cumbersome process of network peering — managing Border Gateway Protocol routing — to simplify policy enforcement, traffic management, and on-demand scaling. Bots also can collect real-time network data and glean insights that make it easier to troubleshoot problems, conduct maintenance and view real-time analytics in an intuitive user experience that gives network operators actionable insights into the health of the overall network.

Bots are helping to pave the road toward an autonomous “self-driving network.” This bold and compelling vision of the future of networking may seem impossible to some and even worrisome to a few. However, it’s exactly the type of revolutionary foresight that’s required as the government responds to disruptions created by citizen expectations, technology and new regulation. A future world in which technology further disappears into the fabric of government makes agencies more productive, affordable and responsive to citizen needs. By following the path to the self-driving network, government can realize that future.

David Mihelcic is the federal chief technology and strategy officer for Juniper Networks, supporting the company’s federal sales, engineering and operations teams. David joined Juniper Networks in February 2017 following 18 years with the Defense Information Systems Agency, where he retired as CTO, a position he held for more than 12 years.