This week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is hosting re:Invent 2017, an annual learning conference for the global cloud computing community. The conference brings together developers, engineers, systems architects, government agencies and decision makers to discuss how taking advantage of the cloud can not only improve efficiencies and reduce costs, but also transform the way organizations deliver on their missions.
On Tuesday morning, attendees heard from Teresa Carlson, AWS Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector; Teresa Smetzer, Director of Digital Futures at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Khalid Al-Rumaih, Chief Executive of the Economic Development Board of Bahrain; Louis Delzompo, Chief Technology Officer of the California Community Colleges (CCC) system; and Julie Cordua, Chief Executive Officer of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children. These experts from the public sector shared best practices, insights and case studies of how their use of AWS technologies has enabled them to innovate and meet customer needs.
In the private sector, there is no shortage of examples of successful industry disruptors. However, Smetzer noted that the public sector faces a unique challenge: “How do we keep pace with private industry? How do we innovate and maintain the speed and agility to address a market that is moving very quickly, especially when it comes to technology?”
Historically, the federal government has been one of the main drivers of innovation, research and development. But fulfilling this role has grown increasingly difficult due to the rapid, dramatic pace of investment in emergent technologies. According to Carlson, this is where AWS comes in.
“Through public-private collaborations, we’re applying innovation with speed and scalability to solve public sector challenges,” she said. But it’s incumbent on public sector leaders to make the leap and take advantage of these available services.
“Achieving new possibilities requires people and individuals within organizations to take a leadership role,” said Carlson. “True builders are those creating a disruptive IT environment to take your organization to the next level.”
Moving to the cloud proved to be a game-changer for the CIA.
“Data is the lifeblood of many organizations, public and private,” explained Smetzer. “Data enables us to do our jobs, but this task has become harder over the last decade because of the enormous growth of the amount and types of data.”
With cloud computing, the CIA is able to authenticate information and do timely searches of data, reducing what once took hours and days to seconds and minutes. The CIA has also taken advantage of world-class machine learning and data science to make national security more proactive. By analyzing events and threats that have happened in the past, agents are better able to anticipate crises, instead of focusing on intelligence and reporting after the fact.
Additionally, the AWS cloud platform has allowed the intelligence community to have a common set of tools and interoperate across all levels of data classification — from unclassified, to sensitive, to secret, to top-secret. By moving workloads to the cloud and acquiring new capabilities, the CIA has been able to stay ahead of adversaries and ultimately reduce threats to national security.
Delzompo shared a similar experience of how utilizing AWS has helped the California Community Colleges system. The largest network of higher education in the United States, CCC has more than 2.35 million students across 114 colleges and receives more than $9 billion per year in state funding.
“We started with ‘lift and shift,’ or moving what you’re already doing into the cloud,” said Delzompo. “But we realized that it saves a lot more money in the long run to move toward more innovative, cloud-first strategies.”
As an example, the CCC system designed a single application process based in the Amazon cloud for all of its colleges, and leveraged machine learning to deal with the rampant problem of fake enrollment applications. Today, CCC is experiencing the benefits of virtualization, demonstrates significant cost savings and boasts a more secure system.
Cloud computing can also play a significant role at a country-wide level, as Al-Rumaih’s experience in Bahrain attests. Bahrain, a small country in the Middle East, is currently the only government in the region to adopt a Cloud First Policy across government in order to confront three major priorities: economic diversification, fiscal consolidation and job creation.
The Gulf Cooperation Council — an economic bloc comprised of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE — is primarily an oil-export region. When the price of oil began to drop drastically in 2014, Bahrain looked to technology to drive diversification by unlocking new sectors (such as financial services and manufacturing) and encouraging startups.
Bahrain needed to “adjust to a new normal in oil prices, while meeting citizens’ expectations of a modern, efficient government,” said Al-Rumaih. The government significantly cut spending to reduce its deficit, but also achieved cost savings of more than 90 percent by moving workloads to the cloud from on-premises data centers.
One of the biggest imperatives for the region is job creation, due to a large youth population between the ages of 15 and 24. The region is expected to grow by more than 100 million people by 2025, meaning there is a pressing need for more private sector jobs.
The Bahraini government partnered with AWS to provide internationally recognized, professional online trainings in cloud computing. “We know there is a skills shortage in technology, coding and data solutions. With education and training through fully-funded government programs, we can help match this skills shortage with the youth bulge,” said Al-Rumaih. "These educational programs provide citizens with in-demand skills as rapidly as possible so that they can find career success in an increasingly tech-driven world."
Cordua demonstrated how cloud computing can also have a critical social impact and serve as an important counterweight to the more pernicious abuses of modern technology. Thorn’s mission is fighting against human trafficking, especially trafficking of children, which has become increasingly difficult to combat over the Internet.
Cordua explained how 3 out of 4 underage sex trafficking victims are advertised online; 150,000 new advertisements are posted per day in the United States alone; and that law enforcement officials don't have the time or ability to effectively navigate the massive online sexual marketplace to find children and identify traffickers.
Using AWS, Thorn built a free tool called Spotlight, which ingests escort ads and layers smart algorithms to predict which ads law enforcement should pay attention to. The system runs over 140 million ads, 33 million unique images and 3 million unique phone numbers to “help find the needles in the haystack,” said Cordua. With law enforcement officials reporting a 65 percent reduction in investigative time, Spotlight has succeeded in directly changing lives.
In only four years since the program’s inception, Spotlight has become the top web-based domestic sex trafficking investigation tool for law enforcement, helping over 1,300 federal, state and local agencies in the United States and Canada. The software has helped identify 6,500 traffickers, 12,000 adult victims of trafficking and almost 6,000 child victims.
Such examples demonstrate the power and potential impact of utilizing AWS and cloud computing. “Encourage a culture of innovation,” Carlson concluded. “The time is now: move fast, get going and stop saying it can’t be done. Be the leaders in your environment to create endless possibilities.”
To watch the full recording of the Public Sector Breakfast keynote, click here.