Blockchain: Are We There Yet?

Implementations and pilots of blockchain continue across government. The benefits of blockchain, including decentralization, immutability, security, and transparency, are appealing in government as they relate directly to mandates around security, privacy, and data openness. It is these needs that will drive further acceptance and use of blockchain.

As this article points out, innovation is not found in just one technology alone - it is a combination of inventions that when used together toward a specific goal create a new way of doing something. The example cited is the airplane. Human flight was made possible by the desire to travel faster and the combination of technologies and discoveries such as the gasoline engine and aerodynamics. Similarly, the goal of peer-to-peer transactions powered by blockchain will be achieved when the technology is combined with other innovations and processes. Some early successes fueling the wide application of blockchain include:

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A Look Back at the Decade: Government Tech Edition

With the closing of the decade, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the top technology headlines of 2009 and compare them to where the market is today.

Data on the Rise

Big news was the launch of data.gov in late May of 2009. The site was championed by the country's first Federal CTO, Vivek Kundra, as a way to enable citizens to access federal data. In addition to making the government more transparent, the hope was that private sector could use the massive amount of federal data in research and to create innovative programs and solutions. The site launched with 47 data sets and as of the last reporting (June 2017) it now holds approximately 200,000 datasets, representing about 10 million data resources. Beyond these numbers, data.gov's impact has been significant.

Thousands of programs can point to the site as the basis for their development. More importantly, it launched a new way of thinking in government. Agencies stopped being as territorial about their data and slowly but surely became more open to sharing it with one another and with the public as they saw what innovation can happen with simple access. In 2019, the vision of data.gov expanded with the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, requiring that nonsensitive government data be made available in machine-readable, open formats by default.

Cloud First to Cloud Smart

In 2009 the Obama administration established the Cloud-First mandate that changed the way agencies looked at acquiring and modernizing their systems. Each agency had to look first to a cloud solution to see if it fit their needs better than a traditional on-premise or hardware-based solution. Email and communication applications were some of the earliest systems moved to the cloud.

While there were many concerns about the security of cloud, acquisition processes proved to also be a huge stumbling block. Because of the consumption model of cloud, traditional procurement language and processes did not "fit" this new technology. The FAA was an early cloud adopter finding a way to acquire and manage cloud solutions for security, capacity, and application performance.

With minds open to cloud and administrative barriers removed, the government has moved from Cloud-First to Cloud-Smart, an evolution we've covered here on the blog.

Cybersecurity in Focus

President Obama issued a national cyber policy review in May 2009 that included 24 recommendations, including the need for a national cyber coordinator. Hiring for this position proved problematic and delayed the implementation of many of the recommendations by a year or more. Once the building blocks were in place, the government has spent the last 10 years getting organized around cyber defense and strengthening the nation's cybersecurity posture.

We've written here about the progress of the Continuous Diagnostic Mitigation (CDM) Program moving the government from identifying who and what was on their networks (and subsequently cleaning and tightening them up) to better reporting and proactivity related to cyber threats and incidents.

These are only three areas that have changed drastically in the last 10 years. There's also of course the rise of mobile and apps, the continued focus on improving government "customer" service, and the application of technology in the healthcare field. We'd love to hear your picks for the biggest tech or policy evolution over the last decade. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Exposing the Supply Chain is a Matter of National Security

The phrase "Supply Chain" may make you immediately think of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart or manufacturers like GM and John Deere, but government is highly reliant on security supply chains. A supply chain is the network of all the people, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, to its eventual delivery to the end user. In government, supply chains have come front and center with the Trump administration's rulings banning government use of products from certain Chinese manufacturers citing security concerns that products could contain ways for the Chinese to spy on the U.S. Companies selling technology to the government have to be able to trace the source of all elements of their products to ensure nothing originated with the banned distributors.

Being able to do this requires a mature supply chain process and solution. Interagency committees have been established to determine best practices in securing increasingly complex supply chains. Understanding supply chains is an expensive undertaking and one survey found that small and mid-sized businesses are opting out, counting on the fact that they will not be the ones called out to defend their supply chain to government. This mentality may not be an option for long.

DoD is getting more and more prescriptive in their security and supply chain guidance, adding the review of contractor purchasing systems as part of bid reviews. GSA has also explored banning the use of refurbished IT, since that includes products where a supply chain cannot be re-created.

The rules and regulations around supply chains can seem just as complex as the chains themselves. Luckily, it's a topic of discussion at a number of upcoming events.

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AI 2020 – Artificial Intelligence Making an Impact in Government

Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to dominate tech headlines. Now, rather than learning what the technology could mean for government, we're reading about where it's being implemented, and the results being achieved. A recent report found that AI is no longer considered optional, but rather a critical component to managing and using large amounts of data. IT leaders in government are looking to AI to automate routine, data-oriented tasks, ease access to diverse sets of data, prioritize tasks based on the benefit to the organization, and generally keep track of ever-growing streams of data.

The Intelligence Community (IC) has long been a top consumer and analyzer of data in government. Not surprisingly, they have embraced AI technology to supplement the work of analysts by reducing the amount of manual data sorting with machine-assisted, high-level cognitive analysis. AI is being used to help triage so the highly-trained analysts can spend their time making sense of the data collected by looking at the most valuable and seemingly connected pieces.

Health and Human Services (HHS) implemented an AI solution when they needed to quickly procure Hazmat suits to meet the response to an Ebola outbreak. Procurement officials were able to use AI to make like-to-like comparisons among products. After the initial tactical analysis, the acquisition teams were able to use the data gathered on department wide pricing and the terms and conditions to better define parameters for ten categories of purchases.

Despite the successful implementations in many agencies, AI is still in the pilot and introductory phase. The Air Force is making it easier to begin experimenting with AI. Because the DoD has strict rules about what can be put on their networks, it is difficult to introduce new technologies into the production environment. The Air Force has created a workaround with the Air Force Cognitive Engine (ACE) software platform, a software ecosystem that can connect core infrastructures that are required for successful AI development (people, algorithms, data, and computational resources).

HHS is looking to use AI to analyze dated regulations as part of their AI for deregulation project. The pilot has found that 85 percent of HHS regulations from before 1990 have not been edited and are most likely obsolete. Using AI to flag regulations with the term "telegram," for example, will begin the prioritization of data that needs to be looked at by humans.

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Tracking the Media Habits of Highly Effective Feds

Market Connections conducted their annual Federal Media and Marketing Study and released the findings at a breakfast event on Halloween serving up a number of treats for those involved in marketing to the Federal government (it also happened to be the morning after the Washington Nationals won the World Series, so the crowd at the DC event was in a jovial mood despite being sleep deprived). This annual survey aims to take the pulse of the media habits of those involved in buying decisions (whether they be decision makers or influencers) in the Federal government. Each year the survey looks at where Federal decision makers turn to get information related to their job and also looks at how they consume media more generally for their personal lives.

This year's survey found that event attendance is holding steady, as it has for several years, and even growing in some areas. One reason for the steady event performance may be the Feds trust in associations. Sixty percent of respondents show a high trust in professional organizations. Peers and colleagues come in a close second, with 57% trusting them as key sources of information. Events, especially those backed by a professional organization, give Federal decision makers a trusted place to interact with their fellow workers to get needed information.

Webinar attendance is increasing, with 78% of people who "attend" webinars doing so in real-time. Another 47% report watching recorded webinars during the workday. The best time to host these webinars? Anytime before 2:00PM works well with the 11:00AM to 2:00PM time block being the most preferred.

Podcasts are also gaining in mindshare in the Federal market with 48% saying they listen. However, the majority of those respondents listen to podcasts for pleasure rather than work (68% vs 32%). Also, when listening to podcasts, the majority of people (48%) skip the ads embedded within them.

In terms of what respondents want to hear, whether it is an event, webinar, or podcast, the survey found that appealing to Federal decision makers as people first rather than potential consumers of a product or service has the greatest impact. The survey found that the biggest concerns of this group were around employee morale and recruiting employees as well as funding and budget issues. They are interested in hearing how work can be made better both from a financial efficiency perspective and a day-to-day employee experience perspective.

This connection to the employee experience can impact who you invite to attend and speak at events. The panel discussion that followed the survey results talked about reaching out to the high ranking C-suite officials and continuing to invite them to attend and speak but also asking them, "who are you mentoring in your organization?" and "who else in your organization would be a great speaker or resource on this topic?" By helping Feds cultivate and showcase talent in their organization, companies can begin to earn that "trusted partner" moniker so many aspire to achieve.

For more results of the survey, visit Market Connections.