EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Making Change Happen Every Day: Q&A With GSA’s David McClure

The U.S. government spends US$80 billion annually on information technology. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is directly involved in nearly 25 percent of federal IT procurement activities through its Schedule 70 acquisition program, including nearly $9 billion directly for information technology investments.

GSA has emerged as a leader in guiding federal investments for information technology, a role that has been enhanced with its responsibilities for implementing the Obama Administration’s “Open Government” initiative. In May 2010, GSA created its Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT), while also retaining an Office of Communications and Marketing.

OCSIT is rapidly becoming a leader in the use of new media, Web 2.0 technologies, and cloud computing, to proactively make government agencies and services more accessible to the public. Through websites such as USA.gov, call centers, publications and other programs, OCSIT facilitates more than 200 million citizen touchpoints a year.

David L. McClure, who had been an associate administrator of GSA since August of 2009, was appointed the first associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

Prior to joining GSA in 2009, McClure most recently served as the managing vice president for Gartner’s government research team. Before Gartner, McClure served as vice president for e-government and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government. Previously, McClure had an 18-year career with the Government Accountability Office.

In this exclusive interview, McClure shared with the E-Commerce Times how he sees GSA’s role as a leading force in advancing the use of information technology in the federal government.

E-Commerce Times: Why did you take this job, knowing full well the challenges of a huge federal constituency, numerous Congressional oversight committees, appropriations uncertainties, and the myriad components of the federal establishment?

David McClure:

First of all, I was on the Obama transition team, and I got to see the inside view as to where the administration was going with some of the technology issues in government. That indicated this was going to be an exciting and different time for the use of technology in government. I knew the president himself, personally, was very much a driver behind innovation and creativity in government, and we have seen that actually in his first 18 months with the whole agenda of openness, transparency and participation in government being linked to some of the new technology areas.

I figured I’ve been down these roads before, and with some of this experience, I could help the new team coming in on navigating some of these choppy waters, like oversight and appropriations. So it was a combination really of new directions and challenges, a spirit of enthusiasm, and almost an entrepreneurial-type attitude that made it a good place for me to be right now.

ECT: What would you say were your top two or three personal goals in taking this job, and how has GSA met those goals thus far?

McClure:

I always viewed GSA as being in the driver’s seat for intergovernmental, cross-agency service delivery. It’s a natural for GSA — it’s always been government-wide in its focus. And certainly, this is a time when technology is being used at the enterprise level to gain efficiencies, and to involve customer interactions that were not really a priority in the past.

So I think GSA is really in a position to accelerate the adoption of technologies and to push agencies into areas where GSA can take a lead in identifying the solutions and help to mitigate the risks. So my goal was to come into government and land in a spot where the focus would be creativity, innovation, pushing the envelope, moving quickly, and trying to make change happen on a daily basis — and that’s kind of how I’ve been running this office.

ECT: What do you mean by operating more at an “enterprise level” than the way things were run before?

McClure:

We have that traditional problem of what we call “silos” or “cylinders” of excellence, and what we need to do is to start looking more broadly at the enterprise level on what problems exist, on what opportunities exist, and where our accomplishments can be. That requires a corporate or enterprise view on what is going on in the organization, whether that’s an entire government department or whether it’s a specific agency.

We are very good in government at looking narrowly and focusing on single programs. But we find it difficult to step back and sort of have that portfolio view, and assess opportunities and areas where we can do away with some investments, and accelerate innovation in some higher-impact areas.

ECT: Rightly or wrongly, government is often criticized for being the last one to adopt innovation. How do you see the opportunities for having federal agencies be on the cutting edge of electronic commerce?

McClure:

Well, this is a new time in government. The administration is pushing agencies to be innovative and creative, and to think outside the box. So a lot of the push behind the open government directive, for example, has been to challenge the agencies to be more transparent and to deliver services to citizens not only in more cost-effective ways but in more meaningful ways. And as a result, we have some very interesting things going on in government. So the attitude, if you will, is opening up the Net and allowing a greater level of input of ideas, and actually asking the people who are the recipients for their views.

It’s not just asking people in a GSA office or department what their ideas are for improving a service, but to seek input from the customers — the citizens. It’s a new way of operating for government to have a continuing dialog with its constituency base. It’s not just an occasional survey or phone call or focus group. It’s an ongoing process, and it becomes just part of the way you do business to build in feedback that will generate improved results in service delivery to the customer.

The Challenges and Prizes program is one example of this, where agencies are asking citizens or individuals to almost operate as entrepreneurs and partners with government. So the agency can say to the public: “Here’s our business problem. Help us solve this.” This kind of opens the funnel for ideas on how government can become more meaningful in the everyday lives of citizens. This is one of the goals of the administration: to show the relevance of government and demonstrating the operational excellence of government, and with that comes higher trust levels.

ECT: Prior to this job at GSA, you worked at Gartner for a time. Were you able to bring back any private sector approaches from Gartner when you returned to government service at GSA?

McClure:

Yes, definitely. At Gartner, I was running the public sector research effort, so I was still connected with government operations within a private-sector setting. So my experience was kind of a blend. Gartner was focusing on business issues and technology issues to get its clients to understand the intersection of the two.

And I think that’s what we brought back to government, using an approach that asks how are we solving real business problems in government, or solving customer service needs, rather than introducing technology because it’s kind of cool or interesting. That leads to taking an approach where we ask ourselves at the end of the day, what have we improved in the cost area, what have we improved from a benefit angle and what have we done to improve the quality of the services we provide.

ECT: Were there any performance metrics you could bring back from Gartner — like the “Magic Quadrant” analysis or ROI — to GSA and government service?

McClure:

Well, we can apply a version of those metrics, but we have to tweak them somewhat for government. In the commercial sector, the focus is on revenues and margins, but in government the focus is on public service. Government has to concern itself with costs and revenues and budget outcomes, but it is not inherently in a profit mode. The primary metric has to be showing value for money from a citizen angle or a public benefit angle.

ECT: Can you give two or three examples of where GSA in particular has facilitated innovation related to information technology?

McClure:

Sure. We’ve made a big push into the mobile applications. We think a lot of services that government provides, and a lot of information that the government makes available, should be accessible on mobile devices. It’s really just the way the world is going. People are interacting more and more on their mobile devices for social needs and increasingly for their consumer needs as well. You actually have a better chance of reaching someone on a mobile device than on a desktop, a laptop or a notebook, because people carry mobile devices around all the time.

The penetration rate of the mobile market is quite high and growing, and there is even greater potential for smartphones, which can interact with the Internet and accept data. So in that space, we’ve got to start building applications and delivering services. We’ve just created 21 applications on USA.gov, for example, where you can get air travel wait times, or product recall notices on food or consumer items, or applications to help you make calculations when you are shopping. We’re looking to put up things that are of practical value.

Another area is in improving the search engine capability. Increasingly, people are interacting with the government through the search mode, rather than visiting individual agency websites. So they will go to USA.gov or Google or Bing to search for government services. We are creating a more robust government search capability that has some technical algorithms that will help focus the search.

So if someone is typing in the word “food,” it will automatically trigger a menu of related references, like “food safety,” as the person is typing and searching. It makes it easier and faster for helping people go where they need to go. So to me, that’s enhancing citizen participation in government, and I think it pays some dividends on technology investments.

ECT: One emerging technology is the cloud. Can you describe how the cloud fits into government and GSA’s role here?

McClure:

The use of the cloud is inevitable. We are moving to cloud solutions in the technology market in general, so government can’t pretend it’s in a market all to itself. You look at the projections from all the research organizations and they all predict a healthy take-up in cloud investments in the next five to 10 years. What we need to do in government is to figure out how to utilize the power of cloud technology and then use it appropriately. It’s not for everything.

GSA needs to play a role in the effective provisioning of cloud services to agencies so they have access to cloud solutions via our procurement schedules and our services. Secondly, GSA needs to step up and think of itself as a viable cloud services provider, so whether its storage or software or services, our role would be to leverage the cloud government-wide. That’s a role for GSA, and that’s one of the advantages of cloud computing, in that it offers enormous opportunities for economies of scale.

If we are able to offer storage space from multiple agencies and do it at tremendous cost savings and then manage that infrastructure for federal agencies, I think that’s a win-win situation for GSA and for our agency partners.

ECT: How do you see the role of GSA in the procurement of information technology? Do you see GSA more directly involved in IT procurement or in acting as a facilitator to federal agencies under a decentralized procurement approach?

McClure:

Well, I think a valid case can be made for GSA to act as a broker in using procurement vehicles for setting up common [IT] services across agencies, such that we gain at least the potential for cost savings through economies of scale. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be improvements in how GSA is running these procurement functions and I know that the commissioner of the FAS (Federal Acquisition Service) is looking at those [procurement] schedules to see how well they operate in generating cost savings. It doesn’t mean that this process should be used for everything.

There are some unique needs — or niche needs or lower volume requirements — where government-wide procurement is inappropriate. But I don’t think we’ll go back to heavy decentralization. If anything, we know the efficiencies that can result with creating a common identification of IT needs — and then obtaining these services from the commercial side by using a high volume of acquisitions as a driver for getting discounts.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Cryptocurrency Custody Concerns: Who Holds the Digital Storage Keys?

cryptocurrency wallet

Got Crypto? Make sure you own and have access to it in a secure digital stronghold.

Having self-custody of your crypto keys and managing your digital assets can help stave off digital bankruptcy or loss through theft, warns cryptocurrency storage provider CompoSecure.

Cryptocurrency is an increasingly familiar term since Bitcoin emerged in 2009. Since then, numerous cryptocurrencies have joined the digital asset marketplace and, despite the recent decline in valuations, the cryptocurrency market value has skyrocketed.

Market watchers valued the global cryptocurrency market size at $1.49 billion in 2020. Some project it will reach $4.94 billion by 2030, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8 percent from 2021 to 2030.

The cryptocurrency market represents the start of a new phase of technology-driven markets that can potentially challenge traditional market strategies, longstanding practices in business organizations, and determined regulatory perspectives, according to Vantage Market Research.

Control of Crypto

Cryptocurrencies have the innovative potential to allow people access to a global payment system in which participation is barred only by access to technology. It could replace traditional standards based on having a bank account or a credit history.

However, buying and selling crypto coins and using digital currency to pay for products in the physical world is not the same as opening a bank account and depositing a paycheck. An announcement by Coinbase may have dislodged the elephant in the crypto storage room.

Coinbase is an app that lets people buy and sell various cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and many others — and lets users convert one cryptocurrency to another. Users can also send and receive cryptocurrency to and from other people.

In its 10-Q filing last month Coinbase disclosed that it would have the right to hold crypto assets of its retail users as property of the bankruptcy estate, if the company were to file for bankruptcy.

So, what about crypto providers and digital storage centers that hold your crypto funds?

That disclosure is driving awareness and highlighting the importance of self-custody, according to Adam Lowe, chief innovation officer of CompoSecure and creator of Arculus.

“As cryptocurrency is becoming more mainstream, many people are jumping in feet first and not properly researching and educating themselves. It’s important users know how their cryptocurrency works, who owns it, and what control they have with their digital assets,” Lowe told the E-Commerce Times.

Crypto Cold Storage Solution

CompoSecure is a pioneer in the premium payment cards industry. The company also developed and provides an emergent cryptocurrency and digital asset storage and security solution it calls Arculus.

The new cold storage wallet solution approach for securing crypto uses the name of the ancient Roman god. Arculus was considered to be the guardian of safes and strongboxes the Romans relied upon to ensure the protection of their cherished possessions.

The company applies that same nomenclature today. Arculus is the contemporary incarnation of this vigilant deity, ensuring the safe, strong security of critical digital assets and identity.

Think of this storage solution as a token, much like the physical device some people rely on to keep their computers under lock and key. For crypto, ownership is directly linked to the owner’s private key.

For example, if you purchase crypto through an exchange and leave it there, you are trusting the exchange to give you your digital assets when you ask. But since they keep ownership of the private keys, the exchange has full control to comply or not comply, Lowe cautioned.

“This is why self-custody wallets are important. By storing your private keys in a self-custodied wallet, such as a hardware wallet, only you have full ownership and control of your cryptocurrency and other digital assets. As we say, your keys, your crypto,” he explained.

Fuss-Free Ownership and Access

Dealing with digital assets is not the same as walking into to your local bank. Crypto security works much differently. When a traditional bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), if the bank is robbed, defaults, or goes bankrupt, deposits are protected up to at least $250,000 per depositor.

Not so with cryptocurrencies. Those digital assets belong in an unregulated asset class that does not have the safeguards of traditional fiat currency. Crypto is currently not subject to FDIC protection, noted Lowe.

“As of now, if your cryptocurrency is hacked, it is gone. This is the main reason why properly securing and protecting your digital assets offline is important,” he advised.

No holistic regulations governing cryptocurrency exist. That is why cryptocurrency is a highly volatile asset.

“The Biden administration is discussing U.S. regulations. While we expect to see movement in that direction, it could be a while until widely accepted regulations are in place,” he added.

Holding the Right Card

CompoSecure’s recently launched storage hardware wallet enables consumers to have self-custody and manage all their digital assets in one offline place. This approach gives ownership of the crypto keys only to the user.

Arculus Wallet NFT support
Arculus Wallet product capabilities now include NFT support. (Image Credit: Business Wire)

The company’s innovative solution is the Arculus Key Card which uses a CC EAL6+ secure element to encrypt and store your digital keys. It is not connected to anything. If you lose it or it gets stolen, no one else can use it.

When a crypto owner makes a transaction in the Arculus Wallet App, it requires the user to tap the key card to his or her mobile device. This is an important security step in the three-factor authentication that Arculus uses to keep crypto keys safe and secure.

The card communicates with the wallet app to authorize a tap-to-transact secure near-field communication (NFC). It involves no Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi, no USB, and no cords.

CompoSecure on Tuesday announced the same approach for non-fungible token (NFT) support.

Cashing In on Crypto

Dealing with cryptocurrency issues can become much like a rabbit hole. The more your dig, the further into a financial abyss you fall. To ease the transition into crypto banking, we asked Adam Lowe to shine a light on the subject.

E-Commerce Times: Do crypto platforms provide digital protections?

Adam Lowe: Some cryptocurrency platforms do provide types of cyber or crime insurance, but like most insurance policies there are limitations and loopholes.

So, must consumers understand about the basic guidelines for digital asset ownership and who owns the keys to the crypto?

Lowe: The most important thing to understand is who owns your keys owns your cryptocurrency. Consumers need to educate themselves on custodial versus non-custodial assets.

Additionally, utilizing exchanges or hot wallets that use a continuous internet connection keeps the door open to threats of hacking and theft.

It is also vital to utilize multifactor authentication (MFA). Three-factor authentication is extremely valuable because it ideally looks at something you are such as a biometric, which can be a fingerprint or facial recognition. It requires something you know, such as a personal identification number or PIN.

Lastly, it needs something you have, such as our Arculus Key Card. This added step of security is crucial to ensure only you have access to your assets.

How does self-custody work?

Lowe: That means you own your private keys. The keys are what grant access to full control of someone’s digital assets instead of trusting a third party to be the custodian and arbiter of your digital assets.

Utilizing a hardware wallet, such as Arculus, will provide self-custody as only you can access your private keys and manage your digital assets.

What makes this method different from other custody arrangements with crypto brokers?

Lowe: Crypto brokers and centralized exchanges are third-party custodians. They have control and access to your private keys to purchase, move, and invest your digital assets accordingly. Non-custodial agreements hand over the keys and limit the layers of protection to the end-user.

How can self-custody protect consumers from online hackers and retain their digital assets even if they go bankrupt?

Lowe: With self-custody, no one can access your digital assets without your consent. This provides the necessary level of protection from hacks.

When it comes to an individual user going bankrupt, cryptocurrency is not considered income but rather property. Bankruptcy law is complex and very fact-specific, so I cannot give you guidance on what could happen to cryptocurrency in a user’s bankruptcy.

Is crypto investing for everyone or just those who can afford to lose?

Lowe: Cryptocurrency is currently being adopted at a faster rate than the internet. It is becoming mainstream. For some, it is their first investment venture. But like any investment, there is a risk of loss. As long as people understand the lack of regulations and high volatility, they can invest according to their level of comfort.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

The Business Case for Clean Data and Governance Planning

Do you know if your company’s data is clean and well managed? Why does that matter anyway?

Without a working governance plan, you might not have a company to worry about — data-wise.

Data governance is a collection of practices and processes establishing the rules, policies, and procedures that ensure data accuracy, quality, reliability, and security. It ensures the formal management of data assets within an organization.

Everyone in business understands the need to have and use clean data. But ensuring that it is clean and usable is a big challenge, according to David Kolinek, vice president of product management at Ataccama.

That challenge is even greater when business users must rely on scarce technical resources. Often, no one person oversees data governance, or that individual lacks a complete understanding of how the data will be used and how to clean it.

This is where Ataccama comes into play. The company’s mission provides a solution that even people without technical knowledge, such as SQL skills, can use to find the data they need, evaluate its quality, understand how to fix any issues, and determine whether that data will serve their purposes.

“With Ataccama, business users don’t need to involve IT to manage, access, and clean their data,” Kolinek told TechNewsWorld.

Keeping Users in Mind

Ataccama was founded in 2007 and basically bootstrapped.

It started as a part of Adastra, a consulting company, which is still in business today. However, Ataccama’s was focused on software rather than consulting. So management spun off that operation as a product company that addresses data quality issues.

Ataccama started with a basic approach — an engine that performed basic data cleansing and transformation. But this still required an expert user because of the user-provided configuration.

“So, we added a visual presentation for the steps that enable data transformation and things like cleansing. This made it a low-code platform since the users were able to do the majority of the work just by using the application user interface. But it was still a thick-client platform,” Kolinek explained.

The current version, however, is designed with a non-technical user in mind. The software includes a thin client, a focus on automation, and an easy-to-use interface.

“But what really stands out is the user experience, which is built off the seamless integration we were able to achieve with the 13th version of our engine. It delivers robust performance that’s tuned to perfection,” he offered.

Digging Deeper Into Data Management Issues

I asked Kolinek to discuss the data governance and quality issues further. Here is our conversation.

TechNewsWorld: How does Ataccama’s concept of centralizing or consolidating data management differ from other cloud systems such as Microsoft, Salesforce, AWS, and Google Cloud?

David Kolinek: We are platform agnostic and do not target one specific technology. Microsoft and AWS have their own native solutions that work well, but only within their own infrastructure. Our portfolio is wide open so it can serve all the use cases that must be covered across any infrastructure.

Further, we have data processing capabilities that not all cloud providers possess. Metadata is useful for automated processing, generating more metadata, which in turn can be used for additional analytics.

We developed both of these technologies in-house so we can provide native integration. As a result, we can deliver a superior user experience and a whole lot of automation.

How is this concept different from the notion of standardization of data?

David Kolinek
David Kolinek
VP of Product Management,
Ataccama

Kolinek: Standardization is just one of many things we do. Usually, standardization can be easily automated, the same way we can automate cleansing or data enrichment. We also provide manual data correction when solving some issues, like a missing social security number.

We cannot generate the SSN, but we could come up with a date of birth from other information. So, standardization is not different. It is a subset of things that improve quality. But for us, it is not only about data standardization. It is about having good quality data so information can be properly leveraged.

How does Ataccama’s data management platform benefit users?

Kolinek: The user experience is really our biggest benefit, and the platform is ideal for handling multiple personas. Companies need to enable both business users and IT people when it comes to data management. That requires a solution for business and IT to collaborate.

Another enormous benefit of our platform is the strong synergy between data processing and metadata management it provides.

The majority of other data management vendors cover only one of these areas. We also use machine learning and a rules-based approach and validation/standardization, which, again, are often not both supported by other vendors.

Also, because we are technology agnostic, users can connect to many different technologies from the same platform. With edge processing, for instance, you can configure something once in Ataccama ONE, and the platform will translate it for different platforms.

Does Ataccama’s platform lock-in users the way proprietary software often does?

Kolinek: We developed all the core components of the platform ourselves. They are tightly integrated together. There has been a huge wave of acquisitions lately in this space, with big vendors buying smaller ones to fill in gaps. In some cases, you are not really buying and managing one platform, but many.

With Ataccama, you can purchase just one module, like data quality/standardization, and later expand to others, such as master data management (MDM). It all works together seamlessly. Just activate our modules as you need them. This makes it easy for customers to start small and expand when the time is right.

Why is a unified data platform so important in this process?

Kolinek: The biggest benefit of a unified platform is that companies are not looking for a point solution to solve just a single problem, like data standardization. It is all interconnected.

For instance, to standardize you must validate the quality of the data, and for that, you must first find and catalog it. If you have an issue, even though it may look like a discrete problem, it more than likely involves many other aspects of data management.

The beauty of a unified platform is that in most use cases, you have one solution with native integration, and you can start using other modules.

What role do AI and ML play today in data governance, data quality, and master data management? How is it changing the process?

Kolinek: Machine learning enables customers to be more proactive. Previously, you would identify and report an issue. Someone would have to investigate what went awry and see if there was something wrong with the data. Then you would create a rule for data quality to prevent a recurrence. That is all reactive and is based on something breaking down, being found, reported, and then fixed.

Again, ML lets you be proactive. You give it training data instead of rules. The platform then detects differences in patterns and identifies anomalies to alert you before you even realized there was an issue. This is not possible with a rules-based approach, and it is much easier to scale if you have huge amounts of data sources. The more data you have, the better the training and its accuracy will be.

Other than cost savings, what benefits can enterprises gain through consolidating their data repositories? For instance, does it improve security, CX outcomes, etc.?

Kolinek: It does improve security and mitigates potential future leaks. For example, we had customers who were storing data that no one was using. In many cases, they did not even know the data existed! Now, they are not only unifying their technology stack, but they can also see all the stored data.

Onboarding new people onto the platform is also much easier with consolidated data. The more transparent the environment, the sooner people can use it and start gaining value.

It is not so much about saving money as it is about leveraging all your data to generate a competitive advantage and generate additional revenue. It provides data scientists with the means to build things that will advance the business.

What are the steps in adopting a data management platform?

Kolinek: Begin with the initial analysis. Focus on the biggest issues the company wants to tackle and select the platform modules to address them. Defining goals is key at this stage. What KPIs do you want to target? What level of ID do you want to achieve? These are questions you need to ask.

Next, you need a champion to advance execution and identify the main stakeholders who could drive the initiative. That requires extensive communications among different stakeholders, so it is vital to have someone focused on educating others about the benefits and helping teams onboard the system. Then comes the implementation phase where you address the key issues identified in the analysis, followed by rollout.

Finally, think about the next set of issues that need to be addressed, and if needed, enable additional modules in the platform to achieve those goals. The worst thing to do is purchase a tool and provide it, but offer no service, education, or support. This will ensure that adoption will be low. Education, support, and service are very important for the adoption phase.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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