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Cloud, Analytics and Security – The Intersection of Government and Technology

For too long government agencies have been saddled with sluggish and outdated legacy systems. As government moves toward modernization, agencies are migrating all of their data information to the cloud to decrease costs and increase efficiency. However, the introduction of any new technology always raises questions about security and efficacy.

In a recent GovLoop online training, panelists explained how agencies can enhance security, data analytics and speed through the cloud. Panelists included:

  • Casey Burns, Health and Human Services Strategy Leader at Amazon Web Services
  • Eric Schwenter, Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services
  • Chris Hagner, Vice President of Products and Technology at Novetta

Benefits of the Cloud

According to Burns, the cloud is no longer cutting edge. In fact, it is becoming the new normal in both government and the private industry and is preferred to the traditional on-premise, data center environment. Now, over 2,000 government agencies including Center for Medicaid Services (CMS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Veterans Affairs (VA) are using the AWS Cloud.

“With the cloud, agencies get the advantage of agility, can improve the pace of innovation and try new things without legacy costs,” Burns said. The cost savings aspect allows agencies to implement and test new systems with less risk. “There is no upfront start-up cost, which reduces the barrier to trying new things,” Burns explained. “That way, you can scale the most successful projects and cut the less useful ones.”

With the confidence that systems are efficient and secure, cloud lets agencies focus on what matters most: the mission and meeting citizens’ needs. “Agencies don’t have to focus on things like IT maintenance that don’t have value to the citizens they serve” Burns said.

Cloud Case Study: CMS

Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies across the country are using AWS Cloud for mission critical applications and health benefit programs like health information exchanges. These systems impact the lives of citizens on a daily basis, so it is critical that they are stable and cost-effective. With cloud, HHS is building new systems, migrating applications and applying point solutions to specific use cases.

CMS brought 74 million Medicaid records into the AWS Cloud to gain a more complete view of national Medicaid programs. “CMS wanted to build a comprehensive view of what was happening in each Medicaid program and how the service was being delivered,” Burns said. “This required data collection, integration and analytics capabilities that are difficult without the cloud.”

CMS was able to integrate previously disparate data sets and enable analytics to answer important questions about healthcare and access. “By employing the cloud, they were really building a foundation that would enable innovation in the future and allow them to grow their analytics and a data-driven culture overtime,” Burns said.

How Cloud Improves Security and Compliance

Before migrating to the cloud, most agencies want to know how their data and information can remain secure. According to Schwenter, the AWS Cloud is a clear way to improve security and compliance postures. “Every service, every feature we build starts with security from the ground floor up.” The cloud includes security of building, resources on network and security of individual hardware components. While most systems are built with larger agencies in mind, Schwenter said that smaller agencies will also benefit from the security measures. “Security is built into the platform which allows all customers, whether small or large, to take advantage of those features,” he said.

Security features also allow agency information to be continuously audited and monitored for compliance over time. For instance, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (DCX) was able to run their online health insurance marketplace on AWS and meet stringent HIPAA security requirements. AWS enables cloud users to build HIPAA-compliant applications that store, process or transmit protected health information.

Cloud Analytics

The cloud can provide advanced analytics capabilities that are nearly impossible in data center environments. Hagner said that, before the cloud, delivering analytics solutions to customers that sought to protect their networks was difficult. “Analytics used to require hardcore programmers and data scientists, and presented a lot of technical challenges,” Hagner said. “The agility we get from using the AWS Cloud is at the heart of how we deliver real value in weeks.”

One common issue among organizations is the amount of data available in disparate sets. But, the cloud provides a fast, flexible approach to solving data integration challenges by identifying attributes across data sets. “Key data sets are available in one place which saves a lot of time and provides a lot of value for an organization,” Hagner explained. With cloud, initial data deployments take weeks instead of months and organizations can seamlessly scale data.

With providers like AWS, agencies can save money by only paying for the resources they use. “Most organizations don’t need all capabilities 24/7, “Hagner said. “They only need it when new data is available. Some may only need it monthly because their data may not change at all.”

With AWS, agencies can invest based on their needs and what adds value to their organization.

The process of cloud migration can seem daunting, but Hagner had advice for smaller organizations with more modest budgets: “There’s a lot to learn, but know that it is attainable and within reach,” he said. “There are very cheap easy ways to get on the map. Just be positive about that approach to the cloud and start working.”


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