Department Spotlight: Department of Education

It's back to school time, so we thought it only fitting to take a look at the Department of Education (ED) to get a sense of what is on their "syllabus" for the next government fiscal year. The stated mission of the Department is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." It is a fairly new cabinet-level agency established in 1980. In addition to providing federal support and coordination to the states, the agency is responsible for administering loans and grants for higher education.

A current focus for the Department is modernization. A recent GAO report looked at the ten most critical updates needed in government. ED had one system on the list that was relying on COBOL programming language, a language that is not used or taught anymore, and those who do know it are retiring from the workforce.

Beyond this obvious and critical modernization need, the Department is looking at many other modernization initiatives, including updating the federal student loan process to streamline and simplify applications. Similarly, ED is actively investigating ways that modernized loan systems can reduce and even stop fraud involved in loan applications.

For people working with the Department of Education, there are several conferences and events in the coming months that address the education sector directly as well as guide modernization more generally.

  • Public Sector Innovation Summit (October 2, 2019; Arlington, VA) - This event brings together IT leaders from government and industry to discuss best practices, opportunities, and key trends in the government technology space. Additional focus areas include efficiently moving to the cloud, transforming IT to modernize government, innovating in a risk-averse culture, and much more.
  • EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (October 14-17, 2019; Chicago, IL) - Focused on the higher ed IT market, professionals and technology providers from around the world will come together to share ideas, grow professionally, and discover solutions to today's challenges. Topics include managing and reducing information technology risk, navigating change, transforming the student experience, and creating a culture of data-informed decision-making.
  • P3 Higher Education Summit (October 24-25, 2019; San Diego, CA) -- Public-private partnerships (P3s) are delivering essential infrastructure on campuses across the country. University representatives and industry leaders will discuss the latest modes of campus infrastructure delivery. The agenda will focus on P3 education, financing, procurement, policy, and networking.
  • Blockchain Expo North America (November 13-14; Santa Clara, CA) - This event will include a series of expert keynotes, interactive panel discussions and solution-based case studies exploring the key industries that are set to be disrupted the most by this new technology, including financial services, government, and education.

Let us know what other events could benefit people working at the federal level of education. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Answering the Call for Service: Customer Service Evolution in Government

Improving citizen experience continues to be a huge priority of agencies as part of their digital modernization. In fact, one survey found that more than half of government employees said there was a gap between the customer service their agency provides and what they experience in the private sector. While creating self-service portals is a big part of modernization, contact centers will continue to play a huge role in how the government interacts with citizens.

Contact centers may be more traditionally or commonly known as call centers. But this change in vocabulary is more than just semantics. Today's centers extend well beyond contact over the phone. To provide modern customer service, contact centers need to encompass online queries via email, live chats, social media, and in-person visits, in addition to phone calls. The response people get over these multiple mediums needs to be consistent and requires an overarching strategy and message that is understood by all representatives regardless of how they interact with citizens.

Continue reading

Revisiting DC: A Look at New Event Venues

Location, location, location. It's a mantra for real estate, but it also has a place in the event planning world. While people attend events for the content, the location also holds sway in decision-making process.

Sometimes it's a matter of commute/travel time to get to the location. Other times it's proximity to public transport or ease of parking. Maybe it's simply that a venue is new and people welcome any excuse to check it out.

For event planners, changing locations can provide a fresh perspective on the event content and how it runs. This is especially valuable for long-running events with a built-in audience. Holding the event in a different location forces organizers to rethink how breakouts are organized and what other activities could be woven into the traditional agenda.

We did some digging and found several venues in the DC region that are worth looking at for events in 2020. Continue reading

Department Spotlight: The Department of Energy

The mission of the Department of Energy (DOE) is "to ensure America's security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions." Technology plays a huge role in both the research surrounding and protection of energy resources.

The DOE may lead the government in their use of supercomputer technology. In fact, supercomputering is one of the key focus areas in the agency's budget. This spring the DOE issued a contract that will allow them to build the world's most powerful computer with a performance greater than 1.5 exaflops. Supercomputers, like the one being built, provide researchers with the needed speed and scale to conduct scientific modeling and simulations as well as utilize AI and analytics for activities as diverse as manufacturing and public health.

Of course, the security of the data running through these supercomputers, as well as the national power grid itself is of paramount focus for the DOE. To support these growing needs, the DOE is looking to blockchain as a way to secure energy delivery and more.

We've pulled together a list of upcoming events that will help the DOE, as well as the companies that serve it, better understand the technologies that can ensure our energy supply remains secure and efficient.

Continue reading

Insider Threat Goes Mobile

Insider Threat has been a recognized attack and vulnerability vector for some time. In fact, one survey found that government IT professionals report that insider threats are at an all-time high. One source of this increase may be the rise in the use of mobile devices to access government systems. The main challenge in securing mobile access is ensuring that the person who owns the device is the one actually using it and the apps that reside on it. The portability and ease with which devices are lost and misplaced complicate security authentication efforts. But there are ways to mitigate this risk.

Agencies have looked to multi-factor identification to confirm the person accessing the system is who they say they are. This process includes combining two or more credentials. Typically this is something a person knows (a password), and something they have (an access card or a fingerprint). A practice growing in popularity as part of multi-factor identification is behavioral analytics (BA). This looks at how users typically interact with an application or device analyzing things like browsing habits, message syntax, even how they hold the device. If the behavior is out of the realm of normal, the system can lock that user out until they prove their identity another way.

Implementing these types of identity tracking and management is, of course, not without issue. The Department of Homeland Security is being challenged to put more procedures and policies in place to ensure its insider threat program doesn't violate employees' Fourth Amendment rights (protection against unreasonable searches and seizure).

There are many events in the coming months that include a deep look at insider threat and identity management to help navigate these security challenges.

Continue reading