AWS Public Sector Blog

Four ways the cloud is boosting government innovation

Gov Matters Tech Leadership Series screengrab

Innovation is discovery that enables government to do more with less, advance economic and national security, and transform public service. In Government Matters Tech Leadership Series: Innovation, leaders from the United States federal government and Amazon Web Services (AWS) discussed how innovation is fueled by the cloud and is helping them achieve their missions and deliver citizen services.

Here are four keys to innovating in the cloud, covered in the program:

Innovating at the speed of need

Government organizations are using the scalability of the cloud to become more agile and increase speed to experimentation and innovation.

To remain mission-driven, federal government organizations need to go from idea to innovation faster, said Colonel Doug Hayes, Chief Information Officer, Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance, US Air Force. “We’ve had innovations come to us over time that take years to get to our airmen. We need to speed up that cycle, we need to be able to get the capabilities that our airmen need to improve our mission, to perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—at the speed of need and relevance.”

“NIH is an agency that’s based on innovation, knowledge capture, and discovery. Our mission is to accelerate cures, treatments for disease, and improve the quality of life,” said Andrea Norris, Director, CIT and Chief Information Officer, National Institute of Health (NIH). Both Hayes and Norris cite the cloud with helping them deliver innovation faster.

Read more stories about how the cloud is speeding time to innovation, including how a researcher at Technische Universität München (TUM) is using the cloud to improve safety-critical systems that require large amounts of compute power and a team at The University of Manchester is using the cloud to accelerate their research on the magnetic properties of molecules. And watch Jeff Barr talk accelerating time to science.

The importance of data to accelerate innovation

The cloud is enabling government organizations to store massive government datasets and analyze them to innovate public service.

“Over the last few years, technology has enabled us to generate vast amounts of bio-medical data that we can use in new ways. Today, it costs less than $1,000 to sequence someone’s human genome. That’s three million times less than it was 15-20 years ago,” said Andrea Norris of NIH. “How do we deal with that data tsunami, and how do we gleam intelligence and knowledge out of it in ways that we could not do before? We’re taking a very holistic approach to data science.”

Brett McMillen, Director, US Federal, AWS, said, “The federal government is really good at generating datasets. And what we have found is that now they are getting really good at using innovative ways to analyze and make those datasets work for the public and for citizens.”

Norris added how the cloud is helping them use data. “We’ve moved these datasets into the cloud, got them better structured, more accessible, and more interoperable—so that we can accelerate that science…it’s changing the way we do science…we’re trying to create this rich national data ecosystem that makes it much easier to break down barriers.”

Learn about the AWS Public Dataset Program and read about the Smithsonian Open Access Initiative.

Applying DevSecOps to innovate securely

In the federal government, innovation can’t happen without security. With DevSecOps, innovations are developed with security in mind—and not as an afterthought, said Col. Hayes. “We’ve been able to develop applications at the unclassified level and move those rapidly through cross domains, up to the Secret, as well as Top Secret. And these apps are secure, they were built in a secure environment, and we have no problem accrediting them and allowing them to operate, and allowing them to operate on our SCI data that we collect and cherish.” Developing with security in mind helps deliver innovations to service members faster.

Norris of NIH said, “We’re leveraging the benefit of cloud technologies to make sure that data is appropriately protected and controlled. We’re doing a lot with consistent Identity and Access Management across the research, the national research environment, so that we can make it consistent but easier for the right people to get to the right data.”

McMillen of AWS said that setting up standard operating procedures enterprise-wide in a federally compliant way, “what you find is innovation happens throughout.”

Learn more about DevSecOps and AWS.

Skilling and upskilling workforce to deliver innovation

Innovation requires developing a pipeline of talent in the workforce to drive that innovation. This can be done through workforce development programs and initiatives. Col. Hayes cited the USAF computer language initiative as one way to develop that talent. “It’s similar to our foreign language initiative. If you can speak foreign languages, you can get a bonus. And they will try to find jobs for you to do where you can use your [computer] language skills.” They’re assessed the skills of 1,400 airmen to date.

The NIH has taken a more holistic approach to workforce development, including requiring all NIH-funded researchers to have a data management and sharing plan, and the STRIDES program, which includes training for novices to experts. The NIH also hosts code-a-thons and partner researchers with public health challenges around the world.

Learn more about cloud workforce development.

Watch the Government Matters Tech Leadership Series: Innovation and check out other stories like this including “A path to IT modernization with agility and scalability from cloud solutions.” Learn about AWS for government.