Pushing tech forward was clearly the top priority for both presenters and attendees of the 2019 AFCEA Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium. But the theme of ‘Machine Learning and AI: Applications in Government and Industry’ only hinted at the full range of interests among the government and industry leaders who participated.
AI, of course, is the direction for the federal government, a strategy emphasized by the recent executive order directing agencies to prioritize the technology going forward. Attendees, while showing interest in how to use and benefit from AI, were also looking for answers on how to advance their tech on multiple fronts.
“Machine learning and software-as-a-service, network-as-a-service, software- defined networking” were among the topics generating the most buzz, according to Jerry Rollandini of SolarWinds. “Currently there are a lot of programs that are referencing these types of new technologies.”
The Symposium offers a fantastic venue for the DoD to lay out its strategy and projects, which give Industry “direction with which vendors can better respond to those requirements,” he explained.
SolarWinds’ Alec Smith noted that the DoD’s focus was on learning about the possibilities that new tech can support. “Everyone was interested in ‘what’s next.’ For instance, software-as-a-service — it seemed that many people want to head in that direction,” he said.
Still, there are barriers to achieving those forward-thinking goals. First, Rollandini said, there’s frustration on the government side with the acquisition process. “They were definitely talking about how they’re trying to support rapid acquisitions and get the solutions in place faster whenever possible. They know the solution is out there – they just want to take advantage of it sooner than later.”
In addition, there’s so much new information, new technology, and changing approaches that IT leadership often doesn’t have the bandwidth to research and learn what’s available. “At these kinds of events, like Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium and AFITC and Alamo ACE, within the Air Force realm, they are looking to find out more about these new technologies because they’re task-saturated, and overtasked in their jobs,” Rollandini said. “Events like this give them a chance away from their normal day-to-day work to hear about a new approach or a new automated product, like a SolarWinds product. So, going to one of these briefings can help them understand that better.”
In addition to high-level briefings and presentations, the conference included numerous sessions where vendors could update their DoD user base on how to get the most from their investment, along with new tools and techniques. As always, cybersecurity was top-of-mind; SolarWinds’ presentations, for example, focused on embedding information security into an organization’s I.T. practices and improving agency compliance.
Smith said that so much has changed in the past 10 years or so many of the attendees he spoke with were looking for “a refresh on our capabilities. People were asking about anything from cybersecurity to the systems side to our network tools,” he said, explaining that even someone familiar with a company’s offerings may not be aware of all the advancements in the product line.
“It can be hard for government to keep up the pace of change,” Smith said. Rollandini added, “There’s a ton of technology that they are interested in, that they can’t take full advantage of yet. “As for what it will take to change that situation, Rollandini was straightforward. “It’s their slow acquisition process combined with large requirements lists. This makes it challenged to get them all together and done in a timely fashion to move on to the next project or priority. If they have a 36-month project roadmap and they’re two years behind due to acquisition, it can be up to five years before a solution is implemented and operational.”
The desire to change is there, Rollandini said. “That’s what they talk about in these conferences. There they’re looking for ways to get these new technologies in the hands of the operator sooner.”
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