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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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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Acquisition and Procurement: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

With another Government Fiscal Year ramping up, we're starting with a whole new year of budget and contract opportunities in the government market. As we've written here before, the acquisition and procurement process in government is evolving to adapt to the technologies and services being procured as well as changes in the workforce that supports it.

The federal government has been rolling out a number of changes to modernize the procurement process. The Government Services Administration (GSA) is taking steps to streamline their scheduled offerings from two dozen into one. The goal of this consolidation is to remove overlap between schedules and eliminate confusion around what schedule should be used. This shift is happening in three phases:

  • Phase 1 -- Issued a consolidated schedule solicitation with a simplified format, streamlined terms and conditions, and new categories and special item numbers (SINs) This phase is complete.
  • Phase 2 -- Mass modifications of existing contracts. Finishing in 2019.
  • Phase 3 - Final consolidation. Slated for July 2020.

In other efforts to be more efficient, procurement teams across government have been looking at implementing emerging technologies to automate manual processes, plus speed up and secure the overall acquisition lifecycle. For example, the use of blockchain is helping buyers "comparison shop" for pricing as well as closing out contracts.

Finally, acquisition groups are playing a big role in ensuring new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are consumable by the federal government. GSA is partnering with the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to advance the efforts of the AI Center of Excellence, employing tactics that have worked in other agencies including the Department of Agriculture.

We've pulled together a number of events that are applicable to the procurement community as well as industry and government looking for ways to introduce new technologies and services into the government.

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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.

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.

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