Google Public Sector’s New Tech Leader On Cybersecurity

Aaron Weis, managing director of technology at Google Public Sector
Aaron Weis, the new managing director of technology for Google Public Sector, on what’s going wrong—and what’s going right: ‘There’s still a lot of work to be done.’

From the U.S. Navy to Google’s new public sector unit, Aaron Weis is charting new courses. The IT leader is in a unique position to help public organizations get better at technology, with insights that private companies can learn from as well.

In March 2023, Weis became the managing director of technology for Google Public Sector, responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the unit’s technology strategy for Google Cloud Platform.

Previously, he served as the Navy’s CIO, assisting the Secretary of the Navy in information management, digital, data and cyber strategy. Weis was also responsible for reviewing the Navy’s budget proposal for IT and national security system expenditures and investments, including certifying whether it adequately addressed concerns from enterprise efficiency and cybersecurity perspectives.

Weis spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how the public sector is handling digital transformation, cybersecurity threats and how AI will impact it all.

After almost four years as CIO for the Navy, in your experience, what are the biggest challenges hindering IT transformation in government?

Even with massive modernization efforts taking place over the past few years, there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to position the U.S. as a global leader in technology and innovation.

During my time in leadership in the public sector, I saw two major challenges hindering successful digital transformation in government:

Bureaucracy. Whether necessary or unnecessary, the reality is that bureaucratic processes often slow down the procurement of critical technologies that have the ability to transform the status quo within these agencies. The budgeting process of the Defense Department is a barrier to getting technology implemented in a timely fashion. Between budgeting and procurement and accreditation processes, it can take years to get a new technology capability implemented. This puts the U.S. at a disadvantage to competitors who can move much more nimbly.

Legacy Infrastructure. Data silos and outdated IT across government often limit the abilities for agencies to leverage data analytics and other innovative technologies, like artificial intelligence. This hinders progress toward automation and embracing other emerging tools, as well as creates security vulnerabilities that leave sensitive government and citizen data at risk.

Where are the biggest opportunities and emerging technologies you predict will drive modernization in the public sector?

When you look at the recent boom of incredibly advanced AI technologies, the current environment represents the leading edge of a complete paradigm shift in government modernization at its core. As AI continues to play a bigger role in people’s lives, we’re beginning to see the role it plays in making government services work better too.

AI is now essential to helping agencies achieve their missions, and we’re already seeing agencies lean in toward a more personalized government experience with better forecasting of needs, increased direct information helping individuals and more efficient processing. AI will be the technology that allows governments and citizens to move faster, shortening process times through task automation and data analysis to overall service.

As agencies continue to embrace innovative AI tools like generative AI, we’ll begin to see more satisfied citizens and more cost-effective service delivery. Constituents are not the only ones who will experience the benefits of AI—with less rote work, government employees can expect less burnout and more creative and satisfying engagements with both the public and each other.

Beyond just productivity and better personalized citizen tools, there’s a more holistic opportunity to leverage AI and other emerging technologies in the defense sector to gain a more competitive edge against adversaries. Areas such as cybersecurity, low-earth orbit satellites, and global mesh networks that enhance resilience, are especially exciting and ripe for breakthroughs. 

What role does AI play in helping the government respond to security threats?

Recent advances in AI, particularly large language models, accelerate our ability to help the people who are responsible for keeping government agencies and citizens safe. AI technology can immediately be deployed in the public sector to enable enhanced responses to security threats.

Most crucially, it can often take government agencies a long time to identify cyber threats, contain them and prevent them from happening again. AI and automation tools can greatly reduce the time and impact cyber threats have on the U.S. government overall, with many innovative AI-powered tools allowing the public sector to quickly detect, understand and address security breaches in real-time.

On a network the size of the Navy’s, there are billions of events on the network every day and finding the bad actor in that noise is like finding the needle in a haystack. AI can dramatically increase the capability of the cyber defenders.

The urgent piece in this all is that threat actors are also moving just as quickly to capitalize on these AI advancements. It’s also important to recognize that governments and enterprises cannot modernize their security without modernizing their infrastructure and software development practices first.

How can public sector leaders demonstrate the value of new technologies?

CIOs and other IT leaders face the difficult challenge of advocating for innovative technological investments to a team of people that may or may not be familiar with the current infrastructure and potential value of the new technology at hand. There is power in showcasing real-life impact to demonstrate value, and we have already seen the significant impact many of these tools have had on businesses within the private sector at scale.

Also, let’s not forget that we’re also seeing these technologies being adopted by state and local governments successfully at scale now. We’ve seen this from smaller cities like Dearborn, Michigan, that are leveraging new IT and data capabilities to transform constituent experiences, to large cities like New York City, whose Cyber Command has built a resilient, highly secure and highly scalable data pipeline in the cloud to help its cybersecurity experts detect and respond to threats faster.

Even beyond the state and local level, we’re also seeing federal organizations like the National Institutes of Health leverage the cloud to make some of its most critical datasets available with appropriate privacy controls and to help simplify datasets. The potential here is very tangible.

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