Amazon Web Services hosts public sector summit, talks collaboration with Canadian government

OTTAWA –  Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) senior executives say there’s a huge drive for the Canadian government to move its services to the cloud and explore use cases for machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Jeff Kratz, country manager for AWS Canada’s public sector business, said during an interview that AWS was “really inspired by what Canada is driving” and its momentum to move into the cloud.

AWS hosted its annual summit for the first time in Canada on Oct. 29 bringing in more than 800 IT professionals to understand how the public sector can get onto moving its services onto the cloud.

Teresa Carlson, vice-president of Worldwide Public Sector at AWS, said cloud infrastructure is a sound option for government Canada because it will avoid spending dollars on infrastructure when trying to digitally innovate and evolve its services.

“They can spend less than a third [of what is spent] and use it on great resources, marketing their product, and trying it,” she said.

Kratz added that now the government is asking about not just moving services onto the cloud but how to use artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“The cloud has released some of the barriers, we are seeing not only putting large amounts of data, but having the ability to do machine learning and AI,” he said.

AWS explained that there are over 125 services offered in its Canadian region, which the government can pick and choose based on their needs. These services sit on various categories including databases, computing services, machine learning, or storage services; sometimes these services can work together, sometimes they’re standalone, AWS said.

Alex Benay, Canada’s chief information officer, said during an interview with IT World Canada in May, that the government should be able to offer services on any platform whether it’s on your watch, fridge, or car. That includes working with smart assistant Amazon Alexa to deliver services.

“Our culture of service in the Government of Canada is about making people come to us. Why can’t we be where people reside? Voice first is worth investigating. Amazon shipped us a developer’s kit for Alexa to experiment with,” he said. Transport Canada has programmed an Alexa Skill – still in beta –  to be able to give vehicle recall information.

Carlson explained other service questions could be: “Alexa show me school closures, or there’s a marathon running what’s the new path I need to get on? Or Alexa when can I go pay my trash bill.”

Scott Brison, Treasury Board President and Minister of Digital Government, made a similar sentiment to Benay during the Monday keynote by saying if Amazon can be agile and understand a customers’ needs, why couldn’t the government do that as well?

“Instead of 250-page proposals, we want to put working prototypes in the hands of public servants and citizens so that they can shape the services that ultimately they receive,” he said.

He said digital services like AWS are able to help the government have a “startup mindset.”

“There are three principles to this: One, you focus relentlessly on the user and the user shapes the services. Two, you have to be agile… try new things, if they fail, pull the plug, if they succeed you can scale them and try elsewhere, and three, working in the open, the more you share the more you gain,” Brison said.

The Canadian government adopted a Cloud First Adoption strategy in 2016, right around the same time that AWS opened a data centre in Montreal and began its partnership with the government.

Carlson said that the service was a lot more secure and safe, which many governments were wary of initially. Now the concern is getting procurement acquisitions and approvals to use these services.

“This itself can be a six-month or more process,” she said. “With cloud, you don’t have to do all of that. Once you have an acquisition model you can go to your console and boom you can build your data centre.”

She noted that “it would have been nice if they put a cloud-first policy in quicker… but given that we’ve actually only had a region here for two years and you’re going to always have the old guard trying not to get those things done.

“So if you think about what holds governments back, they’re held back because you have old guard technology companies wanting things to stay the way they always have been. They like coming in, buying a bunch of [hardware] upfront whether you use it or not, and we are saying don’t do that. Buy a little, try it, and only pay for what you use,” she said.

Not only is the federal government moving to the cloud, but Kratz explained that provinces and local municipalities are also quick to adopt cloud services to improve their digital technology.

He added that Region of Waterloo, for example, has been successful moving applications to the cloud, citing what the Region has done with its transit system.

AWS has offices in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto and it’s enterprise customers include D2L, Lululemon, National Bank, Porter Airlines, Wealthsimple, Athabasca University, YVR, among others.

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Shruti Shekar
Shruti Shekar
Shruti Shekar is a video producer and reporter for IT World Canada. She was formerly a political reporter at The Hill Times and was based in Ottawa. Her beats included political culture, lobbying, telecom and technology, and the diplomatic community. She was also was the editor of The Lobby Monitor, and a reporter at The Wire Report; two trade publications that are part of The Hill Times. She received a MA in journalism from Western University and a double BA honours in communication studies and human rights from Carleton University. She was born in India, grew up mostly in Singapore and currently resides in Canada.

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