In 2013 I helped Carahsoft pull together an event focused on the emerging (at the time) concept of Big Data. The highlight of the 2013 Government Big Data Forum was not just the focus on Hadoop-centric platforms like Cloudera, but the exchange of lessons learned and best practices from people in and around the federal space. We were treated to a fantastic review of best practices and even some historical context from Kirit Amin, a leader who has had successful careers as a businessman, CEO and a government technology executive. Kirit's prescient thoughts for us in 2013 have been proven to be helpful and focused on moving government IT in the right direction and in the right way.
Recall that in 2013 technologists had long already realized that more data was being collected than humans could possibly analyze, including people at government agencies. This gap has given rise to great technological innovation including the many innovations around the Hadoop framework. But Kirit provided something more helpful than a tech framework. He underscored for all of us that data and technology are useless without the masters who can teach others how to make sense of it. The analogy he used to get us all thinking was of Yoda. Yoda was the great Jedi master and teacher. He brought context. He had spent a lifetime studying and was happy to share his lessons learned. And he would teach any who sought to do good, not just the big and powerful.
The need and solution Kirit went on to discuss included the need for agencies who are awash in data to have someone to turn to for asking questions and for generating workable approaches. He called for a cadre of government champion masters of data who could understand the realm of the possible and then help government agencies make better us of their data.
His views and call were absolutely consistent with government-wide open data initiatives and actions at the time. Todd Park, who had proven the power of big data in industry and then at HHS, had moved to the White House as CTO and was helping shape cross-agency views on data in new ways and Kirit's call for action was critical to optimizing those strategic moves. Since then, many other initiatives were started to help provide data expertise to agencies, and, although there is absolutely more work to be done, the model has been proven. Agencies, especially smaller ones, need ways to tap into data experts that might not exist in their own agency.
With that as context, I read with deep interest the exchange of ideas at the 2016 Executive Leadership Conference, where Kirit was noted calling for a new resource for the 96 smaller agencies of the federal government. There has never been a greater need for enhanced cybersecurity for these agencies, and there is no way any of them can defend their networks alone. There is a huge need for these agencies to be able to tap into cybersecurity experts to review programs, provide input to strategic approaches, review funding requests and technology architectures and, more importantly, provide guidance on how to operate securely. Just like in the commercial sector, where mid-sized businesses cannot develop that detailed knowledge themselves, agencies need to be able to turn to others for insights.
There are programs and activities that can help today, but they are all hard for the smaller agencies to leverage. And pools of talent like DHS, Secret Service, FBI and NSA are all very busy and getting attention from them can be very hard.
So, in short, there are huge gaps today that need to be addressed. The two biggest:
- Data Analytics. Yes lots of progress has occurred, but smaller agencies still need ways to tap into experts, and
- Cyber Security. Smaller agencies need to be able to turn to experts who know cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities and defensive strategies and can help agencies with long-term solutions
The ideas I'm hearing around these solutions are very interesting, and all the ideas I hear bring me back to Kirit's initial call for a cadre of Yoda-type masters. I'm hoping we can all keep moving this construct forward.
And a concluding thought: More important than the concept of using highly skilled, experienced masters to help out agencies (especially smaller ones) is the importance of leadership in federal IT. Whether the topic is data analytics or cyber security, leadership and the continued action by people like Kirit is the only way to make progress. Would you agree?
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