Brett McMillen, the general manager of the U.S. Federal Civilian & Ground Station for Amazon Web Services, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the positive impact cloud adoption, innovation through the cloud, increasing data interoperability and “the art of the possible” for federal agencies.
“The cloud allows federal agencies greater access to emerging technologies to unlock the potential of the federal workforce.”
ExecutiveBiz: How does cloud adoption positively impact mission success in federal agencies?
“The AWS Cloud provides secure, scalable and cost-efficient solutions for data management and analysis to support the unique requirements and missions of the U.S. federal government. AWS cloud services are employed to meet mandates, reduce costs, drive efficiencies and increase innovation across civilian agencies – all ultimately helping our government build systems that are more responsive to citizens.
From websites to mission-critical applications, virtually every government workload can benefit from running on the cloud. Our government customers use the cloud as a springboard to do everything from detecting cyber threats to analyzing and storing data for use in healthcare research.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the highlights you’ve witnessed recently where cloud is helping unlock greater levels of innovation?
“Two strong examples come to mind where our wide range of technologies have helped to unlock greater levels of innovation for our federal customers that ultimately help them achieve their mission.
First, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research, launched the Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative in July 2018 to capitalize on cloud technology to accelerate discoveries in biomedical research. The STRIDES Initiative leverages AWS’s wide range of technologies to reduce economic and technological barriers to access, analyze and share large biomedical data sets.
Once mature, the STRIDES Initiative will include data from more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 academic institutions. As just one example, more than 2 petabytes of cancer data have been made available to researchers under the STRIDES Initiative. Better access to this data, ranging from cancer and diabetes to advanced genetic testing and the neurology of addiction, could speed new discoveries, saving many lives and improving the quality of many more.
Second, with the cloud, the Bureau of Fiscal Service is pulling valuable business intelligence from disparate sources to create new data lakes – vast repositories of raw, unstructured data that can be queried to extract insights or analyzed to answer a business question. The data lake architecture ingests large sets of voice files, transcribes them to text and, using models and sentiment analysis, can demonstrate in real time how calls are being handled by call centers. Changes in voice inflection tied to typical sentiments – anger, approval, surprise – can be analyzed to provide insights into call center performance and the citizen experience.
The cloud-based data lake can also use deep learning to redirect human energy from clerical form evaluations to the higher value work at the bureau. All this together aids Fiscal Service’s mission to promote the financial integrity and operational efficiencies in financial management of the U.S government through exceptional financial products and services.”
ExecutiveBiz: How does AWS use analytics and other methods to help federal agencies increase data interoperability while reducing costs?
“A key benefit of the cloud is its ability to aggregate and analyze large quantities of data – increasing insights – without necessarily increasing costs.
In just one example, AWS uses cloud-based analytics to help combat the opioid epidemic. The hc1 Opioid Dashboard is a cloud-based information service that applies AI to healthcare data for state, local and federal governments.
The dashboard allows drug-screening labs, healthcare providers and payers, pharmacists and distributors to report opioid data to help uncover cases of misuse, abuse and addiction. It also enables governments to measure the effectiveness of drug diversion programs and formulate strategies that could ultimately lead to earlier intervention and prevention.
Another example is how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) was able to import more than five of records across all 50 states – totaling 72 terabytes of data – to the AWS cloud.
Through the cloud, CMS is no longer bogged down by older technology, and is free to unleash their creativity as they study their data as a full set. They are now able to help answer vital questions like “how many women in the US had access to pre-natal care?” or “where are people going to receive mental health care?” to paint a fuller picture of health across the US.”
ExecutiveBiz: How are emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning increasing the ‘art of the possible’ for federal agencies?
“I’ve seen firsthand that with cloud technology, the problems that federal IT can solve are only limited by imagination. The cloud allows federal agencies greater access to emerging technologies, like machine learning and AI, that in turn help to unlock the potential of the federal workforce.
For example, the National Hurricane Center, in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center, created the Deep Learning-Based Hurricane Intensity Estimator to automate the process of collecting windspeed estimates and releasing them to the public every three to six hours. This feat would not have been possible without cloud technology and turns complex data into actionable information that opens up new opportunities for researchers, developers and the general public.
The process takes infrared imagery as input and runs a machine learning algorithm to estimate the windspeed. These estimates are more reliable than human classifiers and can be run every 15 minutes using near real-time images from a GOES-16 WMS server. At this frequency, the model can see short-term changes to wind speeds like those that occur during eyewall replacement. These better estimates of hurricane wind speeds can lead to more informed decisions surrounding evacuations and general preparations, saving both lives and property.
A second example that comes to mind is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). NASA’s mission was to land a 2,000-pound rover on Mars and have it completely automated. NASA JPL worked with AWS to process and share images from Mars. Not only did they succeed by using the cloud, but people everywhere could see the photos on their smart devices because they were able to stream 150 TB of data in just a few hours, garnering 80,000 requests per second. This was far beyond what they could have handled using traditional infrastructure.
Beyond simply sharing the rover’s photos with the world – a feat in and of itself – JPL began to innovate with big data analytics on Mars and on Earth. They received 200 million data points from the rover and were able to use data analytics to assist in course correction. Using analytics, they could achieve 40% more drive time on the next rover. Open source tools are now used on every mission. Key to all of this was their use of AWS GovCloud (US) because their data is ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) safe. With AWS GovCloud (US), they do not have to compromise security for collaboration.”
Prior to joining Amazon Web Services, McMillen held a range of senior leadership roles with companies such as Qwest Communications, Telverse, MCI, Bell Atlantic, Nortel and others. He also graduated from Albright College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology in 1984.