Bill Sullivan, a nearly two-decade GovCon industry veteran, joined global software services provider Cloudera March 2016 as vice president and general manager for public sector operations in North America to help drive the company’s open source offerings for agencies.
Cloudera centers its open source services for government around the Apache Hadoop software framework to help agencies manage and apply large volumes of data in their operations.
Sullivan recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz for this in-depth conversation on Cloudera’s work to increase its staff count in the Washington, D.C. region in line with the company’s larger public sector market expansion efforts and overviews his short- and long-term goals for the government business.
ExecutiveBiz: What areas have you focused on at Cloudera since you joined?
Bill Sullivan: We’ve grown the number of staff here in the DC area significantly. This growth was necessary both to meet the needs of current customers and to capture the identified demand moving forward. I’ve also focused on building the core disciplines, including marketing, partners, sales and consulting within public sector. Scaling this fast is challenging.
Cloudera attracts high quality people, but onboarding them quickly to a new, complex technology can be difficult. A component to our success has been physically moving to new offices in McLean, Virginia, establishing a corporate culture that is our own, but also in line with the company as a whole. The culture here at Cloudera is much like what we enjoyed when I was formerly at PeopleSoft, and I hope we will be similarly successful.
The difference is that we are a committed open source company, and an early evangelist of the open source movement, so that philosophy of intelligent collaboration shines through in all areas of the business locally. Being an open source company offers new operational challenges every day. The rapid advance of open source technology forges a different relationship with our customers, partners and market.
It is collaborative by necessity, so we really need to listen. All of our recent work in the Cloudera Public Sector is intended to help us do just that.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some short- and longer-term goals you have for the business?
Bill Sullivan: Short term, refining the marketing messages to build understanding of the Hadoop ecosystem and its potential in government; working closer with partners to ensure they understand the benefits of the architecture, security and data governance in working with Cloudera; connecting with customers in the market, both for the company and amongst the customer set themselves; and ensuring consistent post-sales support by Cloudera.
On this latter point, we have both a professional services team for the architecture and delivery of software, and a support organization. Due to the recent adoption of our technology in the public sector, and some unique requirements of our customer base, finding staff for these two key functions is critical and remains an ongoing priority.
Marketing open source technology is fascinating and I was fortunate to inherit a great team upon arrival. We also enjoy strong support from our corporate team and a recognition that marketing to government is different. However, across the industry there is an “absence of imagination” as to the possibilities of open source software.
If we say — “we are able to integrate heterogeneous sources of data in an infinitely scalable, commodity storage architecture” — eyes glaze over. If we tell them we helped map the human genome they think “that’s cool.” But if we say “open source technology was able to isolate the Zika virus by neighborhood in Miami for quicker identification,” they pay attention.
Finding those use cases which illustrate the power of open source technology to the person on the street not only demonstrates what is possible, it builds the value of the Cloudera brand across the public sector, and in the minds of all our company’s customers. We’re also working more directly with systems integrators. We are leveraging success realized in one area to address another, for example, from planes to satellites or ships to logistics.
We are grateful for the strong reception from our partners, and I expect further investment in this area. Usually, we are working with a partner on one project, but in doing so we assemble the picture for a better understanding of enterprise value.
The partners also appreciate that our professional services team is focused on successful customer outcomes through architecture, design and training, but not long-term customer engagements that might compete with our partners’ business. We constantly push training because it is the greatest predictor of customer success, be it government or integrator.
In February I’ll pick up our state and local government organizations, as well as higher educational institutions, so the process will repeat. Those are unique markets and as different from federal as commercial is to public sector. In some ways state and local is far more similar to commercial sales, so the unique challenges will replicate.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see agencies focusing their data management priorities?
Bill Sullivan: The rise of the chief data officer role is a fascinating development as it portends to data management, and we are excited for agencies that are getting real value out of their data. Data analytics can go a long way in enabling government agencies to take action, and improve operations and service delivery despite limited resources.
We see CDOs helping agencies focus their data analytics priorities on four key issues: reducing operational risk, deriving anticipatory intelligence, improving service efficiency and modernizing architecture.
The ability to access and compile diverse data sets and types improves an agency’s capabilities to detect and prevent fraud and to meet external and internal compliance requirements. Looking at all of the available data can support operational improvement as well as regulatory and cybersecurity compliance, and agencies are able to identify previously undetected threats much earlier.
In fact, a recent survey found that 81 percent of federal workers say their agency is using big data analytics for cybersecurity in some capacity.
The aggregation of pertinent data from diverse systems and partners can lead to timely and valuable insights, or anticipatory intelligence, to help public sector professionals understand situations, make informed decisions, and apply resources where they are most needed.Real-time and historical data provides public sector organizations the ability to understand operations and anticipate eventualities for timely and accurate decision making.
Better data sharing for greater insight into agency needs creates a 360-degree picture of constituents. This will improve transparency and ultimately enhance services and citizen engagement. This is extremely important for the public sector as citizen demands for insight into spending and policy decisions will only increase, with fewer than 20 percent of citizens trusting the government.
Data analytics can enable IT to deliver more value to stakeholders at a lower cost. This is critical given the discovery this year that at least 47 percent of the federal IT budget goes to supporting obsolete and deficient IT resources.
ExecutiveBiz: How should industry help agencies make greater use of large data volumes?
Bill Sullivan: Government naturally seeks to collaborate, but industry needs to stay ahead of the cybersecurity challenges. There are many great minds protecting data every day, but just as many bad actors seeking to penetrate our defenses. This is the single greatest inhibitor to adoption of enterprise data strategies or cross-agency collaboration.
In a poignant conversation one customer told me, “Bill, we have every physical, perimeter, access and role-based security in place already, but we have to assume the bad guys are now inside. We need to encrypt the data at rest and in motion to ensure we are buttoned up.”
On December 19th, Cloudera announced a solution, developed here in the public sector with Docker and one of our customers, that delivers on this requirement: data encryption at rest, in motion and while being used, all with key-based access control and auditing.
This shows the government itself has a large role to play and they are doing it well. We only hear when things go wrong – and those incidents demonstrate the risks — but, there are hundreds of thousands of hacking attempts initiated daily by suspects, ranging from State actors to organized crime and malicious individuals, all thwarted by our federal government.
This happens as a result of cooperation across many agencies. So we must be grateful to thousands of dutiful public servants in the trenches working to protect us every day. Currently, there is an effort to build a cybersecurity education track at 100 universities across the country.
This is akin to President Kennedy’s call for Americans to study engineering as part of the space effort, and a campaign which should be a target for support by industry to ensure we develop the next generation of technically savvy Americans. Much like the space program, it will yield benefits far beyond its original intent.
Today, agencies can collect all of their data in one centralized, secure, fully-governed place that any department could access anytime, anywhere. A unified view of data grants public sector analysts the ability to navigate around the data silos, allowing new and real-time insights that deliver more data-driven and responsive government information and services.
Additionally, government leaders will be empowered to take more timely actions and determine the most efficient means to provide the support needed as indicated by trusted, advanced data analytics.
ExecutiveBiz: In which areas can agencies narrow their focus to make data management easier?
Bill Sullivan: Digital transformation is happening rapidly and it is having an impact on government operations. Adoption of mobile devices and use of sensor data from our increasingly connected world is creating new and rich data that needs to be harnessed for business results, especially the business of government.
Successful organizations are updating their operations and using data to make more defensible and informed decisions. Organizations are modernizing their architectures to realize the value of enterprise data, while taking proactive steps to ensure their information assets are protected and continuously monitored for availability and integrity.
Applying insights discovered in untapped data is vital for agencies that want to stay ahead of the cultural and digital shift currently taking place.