Getting on the (Block) Chain Gang

We've been watching the use of blockchain growing in the government space as agencies look for ways to more efficiently and securely share their data. A Congressional Resolution was introduced to tout the promise of blockchain saying that, "blockchain has incredible potential that must be nurtured through support for research and development and a thoughtful and innovation-friendly regulatory approach." Following this encouragement from congress, it seems like each day there is a new application of the technology being tried and evaluated.

We've gathered a couple applications that we found interesting to help illustrate what blockchain is and what it can do.

  • Supply Chain - The Navy is looking to use blockchain to track aviation parts throughout their lifecycles, helping them better manage their supply chain. Similarly, the FDA is looking at how blockchain can better track the chain of custody of prescription drugs. In a related application, blockchain is also being considered as a solution for better tracking digital evidence in criminal cases.
  • Managing Public Records - State and local organizations are using blockchain to digitally distribute records, including marriage certificates, property titles, and business registrations.
  • Voting - Blockchain is being tested as a way to make it easier for service members and overseas citizens to vote. Last fall, 144 West Virginia voters living abroad were able to vote through their mobile phones via an app. Identities were confirmed by scanning a valid U.S. ID along with a selfie. Once the identity was confirmed, voters made their selections based on the ballot they would have used at their local precinct. Voters were then given a unique ID or hash that, once the vote was cast, allowed them to write on to the blockchain. Each submission was encrypted to the blockchain ledger, which gave election clerks the ability to conduct post-election audits.
  • Public Health - Blockchain can also speed the delivery of information as it relates to public health crises. The Food and Drug Administration is looking at how to use blockchain to share health care data securely and effectively in real time when epidemics like the swine flu threaten the health of the nation.

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Care and Feeding of Your Content

As we highlighted in the post, The Why and How of Federal Event Attendance, content is truly king. The topic is the driving force for getting people to register and attend an event. Knowing attendees are there to learn, how can event planners ensure attendees have a great experience and are able to digest and use the information presented? We've pulled together a quick tip list to think about when organizing your next event.

  • Can you see me now - check the lighting and sight lines to make sure the audience is able to clearly see the presenter as well as their slides. If possible, test the room set up at the same time of day that your event will be happening. In rooms with ambient light, shadows shift throughout the day. Additionally, it's important to check lighting for the presenters - they should have enough light on stage to be able to read their notes but not too much that they can't see/read the audience.
  • Mic check 1-2 - nothing is more aggravating than sound that is too quiet, too loud or has feedback. While there will almost always be audio glitches during an event, minimize issues by testing all microphones prior to each use and have AV support in the room should something happen during the talk.
  • The presentation is in the mail - attendees are there for the content so make it available after the event. Let attendees know you will email them access to the presentations so they do not have to worry about photographing slides to refer to later.
  • Spell check twice, distribute once - since slides are being disseminated, it is even more critical to spell check and proof every presentation. A typo that may get overlooked on the screen during an engaging presentation will stick out when people study the information closer on their own screens.
  • Reuse and recycle - don't let the learning stop at the event. Take the content presented and find ways to share it after the fact through blog posts, videos/video clips, podcasts, infographics, and more. Doing so will broaden the reach of your event and message beyond the in-person attendees.

Let us know your ideas for how to highlight your content before, during, and after your events. Share your thoughts in the comments.

It’s Not Enough to be First, You Have to be Smart – Cloud Smart

Over the past year, there has been a shift in the way government approaches the cloud. No longer are agencies asked to go "cloud first," they are now urged to be "cloud smart." This change is not just a matter of semantics; it is a different way of thinking. Rather than choosing a cloud solution to meet mandates, agencies are examining whether the cloud is the right platform for the application or system in question. Cloud Smart also means picking the right kind of cloud - public, private, or hybrid/multi cloud to meet user, administration, and security needs.

One way to be Cloud Smart is to follow FedRAMP guidance. While this program is not without its challenges (including the speed at which technologies get approval), it is still a valuable tool to ensure that industry standards and security protocols are met. Participation in the program is growing with 150 participating agencies and over 130 FedRAMP-authorized cloud service offerings.

While guidance around how to proceed to the cloud is evolving (along with the cloud technology), agencies are pushing forward and finding their smart path to cloud and, more importantly, creating new ways to interact with their constituents. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Production and Conservation division made the shift to a commercial platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for Farmers.gov. This site "allows farmers, ranchers, foresters and agriculture producers to register their businesses electronically and gain personalized access to the services they need to manage their operations." By using cloud technologies, USDA found they could save their developers time, enabling them to focus on configuring, rather than coding.

There are several events that feature examples of these cloud successes and discuss how to overcome technical, policy, and cultural barriers to smart cloud adoption.

  • DC CloudWeek (June 3-7, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This SXSW-style citywide festival brings together thousands of government and tech leaders from around the nation to share how the cloud is transforming government, academia, nonprofits, and the private sector. It includes dozens of community conferences, events, and parties.
  • AWS Public Sector Summit (June 11-12, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This event brings together innovators who are changing the world with cloud computing to share their successes and lessons learned to guide wider cloud adoption in government. The conference aims to send attendees back to their office with new strategies and techniques for kicking off new projects, maximizing budgets, and achieving mission goals.
  • ATARC Federal Cloud and Infrastructure Summit (June 25, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This educational, one-day symposium will examine the cloud tools and techniques being used by the Federal Government to provide agencies with greater efficiency and cost savings. The morning session will feature speakers and panels with government thought leaders, while the afternoon includes the MITRE-ATARC Cloud Collaboration Symposium, where government, academic, and industry subject matter experts will examine cloud and data center challenge topics.
  • 2019 Cyber Security Brainstorm "Cyber Strong: Cyber's New Frontier" (August 8, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This half-day program will discuss integrating cloud and other next-gen technologies, strategies for building cyber strength, and preparing the workforce for these technological changes.
  • KubeCon | CloudNativeCon (November 18-21, 2019; San Diego, CA) -- The Cloud Native Computing Foundation's flagship conference gathers adopters and technologists from leading open source and cloud native communities to further the education and advancement of cloud

Let us know your go-to events for cloud information with details in the comments.

Behind the Curtain: GEOINT 2019

The GEOINT Symposium is the nation's largest gathering of geospatial intelligence stakeholders from across industry, academia, and government. Hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), the event has become the gathering place for 4,000+ members of the worldwide geospatial community.

Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) was recognized as a discipline in the mid 1990s when the imagery and mapping disciplines were combined into a single DoD agency that was later re-named the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The combination proved that together, these two technologies provided an incredible opportunity for new intelligence and analysis. The term "GEOINT" was coined by the honorable James Clapper and a community of mapping and imagery intelligence analysts began to grow.

The first GEOINT Symposium was held in a hotel meeting room with the expectation of 100 attendees, but even that first event drew many more to the standing room-only sessions. Since then, the Symposium has grown year after year to become the flagship event for networking and professional development among the defense and intelligence communities and others who use geospatial technology including first responders, law enforcement, and beyond. Continue reading

The Next Step in Data Center Consolidation

Data center consolidation has been a mandated goal in the federal government for a number of years. The introduction of cloud, virtualization, and shared services means the government can run more efficiently with less hardware that no longer requires huge, physical servers to sit in buildings. Many of which were built for the sole purpose of housing servers. Consolidation saves money on technology, the support of that technology and also reduces agency real estate footprints and needs. While agencies have made some strides, the OMB sees the progress to date as going after low hanging fruit and is now challenging agencies to think bigger.

According to a drafted policy issued in November, OMB stated, "Agencies have seen little real savings from the consolidation of non-tiered facilities, small server closets, telecom closets, individual print and file servers, and single computers acting as servers." The push now should be in moving to the cloud and shared services, and looking to commercial third parties to host government data.

More than moving servers and workloads, data center consolidation relies on changing the way agencies manage data. The Data Accountability and Transparency Act was enacted to make information on government spending more transparent. Doing so requires agencies to agree to and implement data standards so that information can be shared across government and openly with the public. This implementation of standards has been a stumbling block for compliance. Continue reading