Randy Ridley has been in charge of Federal Operations at Planet OS managing our business for the federal government since the first days of 2015. Randy brings with him three decades of experience inside the Washington Beltway as a seasoned executive with a proven track record of deploying enterprise software and technology solutions. We asked Randy a few questions to better understand how the federal government approaches enterprise software, the Internet of Things, and sensor technology.
His Op-Ed pieces have been published in the Washington Post, Defense News, and he has also been featured on the cover of Federal Computer Week. Throughout his career he has served for Metacarta, Siemens, TASC, and others, dealing across the Federal Sector (Department of Defense, Civilian, Intelligence). As a former Naval Officer (Surface Warfare) he also has quite a bit of sea time under his belt. He earned his BA in History from the University of Iowa and his Masters Degree in Security Studies from George Washington University.
How are the Federal government and relevant agencies currently thinking about IoT?
The government, as is the commercial sector, is worried about how to manage all the incoming data now being produced by machines. The U.S. Federal government has some very specialized needs and these needs drive some unique technologies. For example, the military needs drones and NOAA needs to watch the oceans (and so has some very smart oceanic buoys). Homeland Security also needs to keep an eye on thousands of miles of border and thus use video and radiation detectors as another example. These unique needs and technologies pose an integration challenge since they often show up in the government enterprise in silos in which users are unable to share or analyze all the data at once. In addition to these challenges, the amount of sensor and other data being collected within the Federal government is so large that only scalable big data technology deployed in the cloud can keep pace with incoming streaming data.
What are some of the bigger challenges in developing enterprise software for government?
There are challenges and there are opportunities working with the government in this regard. First, the government has a set of unique procurement rules that has no parallel in the commercial world. These rules are often arcane and present an artificial barrier to new technology. It takes a government program manager with unusual vision and talent to keep his or her enterprise up to date with the best tools and technologies. On the other hand, the government is very up front about its needs and requirements. There is a great deal of transparency.
How have you seen cloud platforms disrupting traditional IT systems?
Most government agencies are now mandating cloud deployments for new systems. In other words, if you have a new IT system coming online the program manager must now prove first why the system cannot go into the cloud before proceeding. Integration of new systems is now easier since all the software and the data reside in the cloud. There are less security issues intra cloud than there were within the enterprise. Also, it is much quicker to stand up an IT system in the cloud than to go through the long process of enterprise deployment. One might wait years for a government IT department to approve new software or have the time to go through the process of vetting a new tool. Under the old system by the time the system was deployed it was years out of date. The cloud helps collapse the new technology deployment timeline greatly.
What trends have you picked up on in terms of specifically how sensor data management has evolved?
Sensors have gotten better and are now producing more data more frequently. The sensor manufacturers do a great job of getting the most out of their sensors. However, a number of big problems are emerging. First, the scale of sensor data is jumping upwards significantly and sensor data is pouring into customer systems. Until recently there were no tools to look at all the sensor data in one view. So the big picture and the correlation, especially between different sensor types, of all the data was lacking. Second, it is getting harder to get the sensor data into the hands of end users in a timely fashion. In some cases, users need live data feeds from different sensors in one view. Once sensor data is collected, whether it is in the enterprise or the cloud, it sits in a cumbersome database and in fact becomes “lost”. Those that paid for the data can no longer find it or use it effectively. The solution to fixing this is the exactly kind of indexing system that Planet OS has in its system.
What kind of benefits can good sensor data discovery bring to the federal government?
The range of benefits is quite large. Data discovery can save the government money by allowing it to better find data it has already collected. If it is collected once, you don’t have to pay to collect it for a second time. Data discovery permits real data analysis between different kinds of sensors run by different agencies as complemented by data from third party vendors. This allows the analyst to see a comprehensive view – something the Department of Defense calls situational awareness. This analysis can lead to real action and conclusions on the part of the government. Data discovery is a key element of data management. By finding data and even individual sensors the user can validate the sensor deployment and gaps in data or sensor coverage.