Winning ‘The Shadow War’

Whether it’s online, on land, underwater or in space, CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto’s “The Shadow War: Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America” offers ominous insights into how the United States’ key adversaries are changing the dynamics of national security.

Sciutto provides context into present day Russia and China military strategies — from the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Ukranian political upheaval to foreign meddling in U.S. elections to satellite maneuvering — how the new game of security is played, and what the United States needs to rethink and execute for these new times.

Key excerpts:

The advent of the Shadow War should have surprised no one. In military terms, hybrid warfare is a natural product of a world with a single superpower and other rising or declining powers eager to challenge that superpower. For China, Russia, and other US and Western adversaries, hybrid warfare is the only way to take on a country such as the United States with otherwise unchallenged military might. In other words, the so-called gray zone is the only field of conflict on which these adversaries believe they stand a chance of winning.

US defense and intelligence officials now speak openly of the dangers of repeating the errors of the 1930s, that is, observing aggression by adversaries in Europe and Asia while assigning false limits to those adversaries’ ambitions. Those fears of repeating the mistakes of history are now fueling calls to defend against the Shadow War now or face the danger of a wider conflict in the years to come. And yet, without a commitment throughout all levels of the US government, the United States faces the alarming prospect of emerging from the Shadow War diminished and defeated.

U.S. national security officials agree that the United States must find better ways to fight and defend against the Shadow War, to impose costs sufficient to compel Russia and China to change their behavior, and, if possible, to impose costs sufficient to reverse the gains they have already achieved, or to make those gains untenable. The consensus of the current and former national security and intelligence officials I’ve spoken with is that none of these steps has so far been taken to a degree sufficient to make America safe.

UK will pilot AI government procurement guidelines co-designed with World Economic Forum

Photo: World Economic Forum
Photo: World Economic Forum

The United Kingdom Government announced it will pilot newly-developed artificial intelligence procurement guidelines it co-designed with the World Economic Forum.

From the announcement:

Governments want to acquire AI solutions to streamline processes and provide insights into key sectors such as transportation, healthcare and public services. However, officials often lack experience in acquiring such solutions and many public institutions are cautious about harnessing this rapidly developing technology at a time when we are only beginning to understand the risks as well as the opportunities.

Growing public concerns around bias, privacy, accountability and transparency of the technology has added an extra layer of complexity to a potential roll out on a national level. The AI Procurement Guidelines for Governments have been designed help officials keep up with this rapidly developing technology and mitigate the risks.

The guidelines were co-designed by the World Economic Forum’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team and fellows embedded from UK Government’s Office of AI, Deloitte, Salesforce and Splunk. Members of government, academia, civil society and the private sector were consulted throughout a ten-month development process, which incorporated workshops and interviews with government procurement officials and private sector procurement professionals.

The report provides the requirements a government official should address before acquiring and deploying AI solutions and services. It also provides the questions that companies should answer about their AI development and how the data is used and processed. The guidelines also include explanatory text elaborating on how to implement, key questions to ask and case studies.

More: UK Government First to Pilot AI Procurement Guidelines Co-Designed with World Economic Forum

United Nations digital economy report gives comprehensive insight into global emerging tech trends and the future impact on us all

United Nations flag
Photo: sanjitbakshi

The United Nations published its 2019 Digital Economy Report that is a comprehensive must-read for civic leaders who want to understand how emerging technologies will impact the global labor market, security, privacy, economy and more.

Digital trends addressed include blockchain, three-dimensional printing, Internet of things, 5G mobile broadband, cloud computing, automation and robotics, and rtificial intelligence and data analytics.

From Secretary-General António Guterres:

Digital advances have generated enormous wealth in record time, but that wealth has been concentrated around a small number of individuals, companies and countries. Under current policies and regulations, this trajectory is likely to continue, further contributing to rising inequality. We must work to close the digital divide, where more than half the world has limited or no access to the Internet. Inclusivity is essential to building a digital economy that delivers for all.

Full report: 2019 United Nations Digital Economy Report

Government open innovation labs

Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)
Policy Innovation Exchange – Argentina and the UK (Photo: UK Government)

I’m a big proponent of the open labs concept in government, because it creates space for a more inclusive approach to innovation beyond just a position or department.

The United Kingdom and Argentina governments are working on what they call the Policy Innovation Exchange that creates the potential for a much-needed, broad-scale government-to-government open collaboration organization that addresses common issues each — and others — have.

Ultimately, what this can enable is better sharing of policies, technologies and culture exchanges, helping innovation to holistically be free beyond localized innovation bubbles.

Government labs around the world are finding ways to improve the decisions that public officials take. We are generating evidence that enables co-creation of public policies, we have an interdisciplinary perspective of problems and we prototype before implementing in order to reduce risk.

But we need to remember that our efforts are part of something bigger. Labs are changing the paradigm of thinking, designing and implementing public policies.

Perhaps it is time to move from labs learning from each other, to labs working together and executing projects jointly?

Read more about this collaboration in English or Spanish.

Digital government transformation at scale

The strategy is delivery

While several books have contributed to the knowledge share of the digital government narrative, few have effectively addressed transformation holistically from firsthand experience, and Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery does just this.

Written by former United Kingdom Government Digital Service founders and leaders, Digital Transformation at Scale provides insights into the steps to take to create a functional, sustainable, accountable, scalable organization that is a conduit for government change. The granularity of advice, such as what to do first — first team, first 100 days, first projects — to sharing the work to ensuring failing projects are stopped to promoting savings are extremely insightful and practical.

As the authors note, digital is more than just technology:

“Digital transformation is not all about technology; it is about changing the way you work. … [It’s] about building a new type of organisation around internet-era principles, not adding technical complexity to try and fix analogue organisations. It means changing how an organisation runs itself in the background at least as much as changing what its users actually see.

“The biggest change is how you deliver. Working in empowered, multidisciplinary teams. Starting with the needs of users. Publishing your work in the open. Iteratively improving what you do. Testing new services with real people. Using tools of the open internet over expensive proprietary options. Writing clearly for a wide audience. Showing prototypes and working code as a substitute for papers and meetings. Building trust between people in your organisation, and those who it works with. Designing with data. Doing the hard work to make things simple.”

GDS had all of the ingredients for success, including a mandate and full empowerment borne from a 2010 government report, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution, particularly:

  • “Absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments”
  • “CEO for Digital” with “absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APls) and the power to direct all government online spending”

Key takeaways:

  • Start small
  • Establish political cover
  • Appoint a chief digital officer
  • Prioritize culture (agile, open, flat, together, driven)
  • “No innovation until things work.”
  • Operate under the radar (initially)
  • Establish principles principles, standards, strategy and a manual
  • Focus on shipping early versions of products that meet user needs
  • Socialize work early and often
  • Exact spending controls
  • Have a dedicated team with authority to stop bad projects
  • Show fiscal impact with performance dashboards and efficiency reports
  • Think ‘platform’

In 2013, GDS had 200 employees. Today, there are more than 850 managing delivery, guidance, marketplace and multiple platforms and products. It has inspired much of the digital government organization landscape, and Digital Transformation at Scale is the playbook for anyone — from elected officials to government administrators — sincerely interested in reforming how government serves the people.

Digital Transformation at Scale

Digital Transformation at Scale: Why the Strategy Is Delivery
Andrew Greenway, Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore
232 pages
London Publishing Partnership (8 May 2018)

Canada adopts open source mandate for government software

Canada flag (Photo: Caroline Ingram)
Canada flag (Photo: Caroline Ingram)

The Government of Canada has issued an information technology directive on business, information, application, technology and security architectures that includes a mandate to prioritize open source software. 


C.2.3.8 Use Open Standards and Solutions by Default

C. Where possible, use open standards and open source software first

C. If an open source option is not available or does not meet user needs, favour platform-agnostic COTS over proprietary COTS, avoiding technology dependency, allowing for substitutability and interoperability

C. If a custom-built application is the appropriate option, by default any source code written by the government must be released in an open format via Government of Canada websites and services designated by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

C. All source code must be released under an appropriate open source software license

C. Expose public data to implement Open Data and Open Information initiatives

Read the full directive.

‘Government Digital’ with Canada CIO Alex Benay

Government of Canada Chief Information Officer Alex Benay

Government of Canada Chief Information Officer Alex Benay

Alex Benay is the Chief Information Officer Government of Canada and an open and relentless advocate for digital government innovation.

Benay is also the author of the new book, “Government Digital: The Quest to Regain Public Trust,” so we asked him to share his thoughts on the role of the CIO, Canada’s proactive move to technology modernization, and what it means for government to go digital.

What’s your role as Canada’s chief information officer?

The Office of the Chief Information Officer provides strategic direction and leadership in information management, information technology, security, privacy and access to information across the Government of Canada.

We provide support, guidance and oversight for all digital initiatives within the Government of Canada, and are working to a more cohesive digital strategy for Canada, including an enterprise vision for technology in the GoC, as well as supporting a digital-first service delivery strategy to meet citizens’ needs on any platform or device.

Both nationally and internationally, Canada is emerging as a global leader in digital government? Where are stand out examples we should be paying attention to?

From the My Alberta Digital Identity project (the Province of Alberta, Service Canada and TBS are working together to provide services via a digital identity to residents in Alberta), to the Canada Food Inspection Agency teaming up with Samsung to deliver food recall notices through their smart fridges, there are numerous examples of how government departments are working with partners to seamlessly deliver services to citizens.

In broad strokes, there are a few key policy areas we are looking to affect. These are:

IT procurement/spending

We are working to make procurement practices more agile, by shortening timelines, exploring the implementation of a tech spending cap, and connecting small and medium-sized enterprises and startups to government departments to leverage operational spending to support innovation.

Human resources

The digital economy has changed the nature of work. Government HR policies will need to adapt to better accommodate the ‘gig’ economy, while maintaining rights and benefits accorded to the traditional ‘full time’ employees. We’re working to make it easier for workers to move between the public and private sector, broadening their experience and bringing new perspectives and skills to public sector work.

Radical transparency

The entire Government of Canada system must get better at working in the open in order to do more with less, partner with sectors that possess expertise that we don’t have as a civil service and deliver services where people reside: online. Working in the open means more collaboration, more data shared via the Government of Canada’s open data portal, as well as relying on open source software when possible to deliver greater efficiencies.

Artificial Intelligence- Standards and Ethics

As mentioned previously, the government is currently working with public and private sector stakeholders on the development of ethical AI standards for Canada (both public and private sector) which will ensure that Canadian values are upheld and respected in all AI applications.

Why is ‘Government Digital’ important right now, and who should read it?

The digital revolution has affected every aspect of people’s lives, and governments need to keep up or risk becoming obsolete.

As Canada’s Minister for Digital Government, Scott Brison has said, “…governments cannot be content providing Blockbuster service in a Netflix world.”

Governments must look at leveraging technology to provide seamless services to citizens online, through multiple channels- be it their phone, social media platforms, digital assistance, or even the smart appliances in their home.

Digital service delivery does not care about systems, our hierarchies or our departments. The “Public Service” must learn to work together to succeed in serving citizens who are digital citizens themselves.

This book is for anyone working in the public sector, or any citizen who would like to see how governments can change and adapt to embrace the opportunities of the digital economy. It’s for anyone who’s tired of filling out forms in triplicate, and signing in to multiple user accounts to access government services from different departments.

Change is coming, and this book explores what the future of government will look like.

You differentiate between the old way and the new way. What’s the old way?

The world has problems, and governments have departments. This analogue, linear approach to service delivery needs to change.

The old way is having a citizen visit a service desk to apply in person for employment insurance, or to line up for hours at a passport office to apply for a new passport. The technology now exists for a citizen to use one login to access online services at a municipal, provincial and federal level. Various levels of government must now work together remove legislative barriers to information sharing, in order to provide seamless services to citizens.

And the new?

Governments are moving away from linear, analogue models for service delivery and embracing digital, exponential solutions.

As a nation, we need to think bigger and act quicker. In the startup community, a great deal of emphasis is placed on time to market. Similar thinking must now be adopted by governments.

We can no longer rely on policies and practices from an analogue era that mean it takes four to five years for change to happen. The digital revolution has drastically changed the pace of change, and governments need to adapt. Procurement timelines need to shift from three to five years to six to twelve months, and governments as a whole need to be more agile in their approach.

Internationally, Estonia is a great example of a country that quickly changed their legislation in order to prepare for the digital economy. From a national digital ID program, to encouraging global startups to make Estonia their place of business via e-citizenship, Estonia has established itself as a world leader in digital government. The economic benefits of this approach are easy to see- the small country with a population of 1.3 million currently boasts four ‘unicorns’ (tech companies valued over $1 billion dollars).

You’ve talked a lot about failure and even wrote a book on it? How and when is it O.K. for government to fail?

It’s become a bit of a cliché, but I do think it’s important to emphasize that failure should happen quickly and often.

Public servants who are quick to acknowledge and learn from failure are more likely to produce a higher quality product than workers who live in fear of failure, trying to cover up or airbrush mistakes, rather than frankly acknowledging when something isn’t working and changing it.

When you look at large-scale IT failures in the public service, it is often because problems should have been acknowledged very early in the planning stages, which would have mitigated some of the damage. By embracing a culture where failure is accepted as a part of innovation, the public sector can move away from linear, waterfall approaches to project management, and towards a more agile, and iterative model of product delivery.

You’ve established yourself as a cheerleader of sorts, but also openly and authentically talking about government innovation. What’s your advice to other technology leaders and, in general, an industry that’s typically reserved, behind the scenes and reticent to be as publicly vocal as you are?

As mentioned above, I advocate for a lot more transparency in the public sector. This means adopting a ‘user first’ approach to service delivery- designing services in the open, working with citizens to get their feedback throughout the design process, and relentlessly testing products and services before they are rolled out.

Leaders in government need to encourage their teams to collaborate with other departments, jurisdictions, the private sector and academia in order to ensure all perspectives are included to deliver the best service to citizens.

Government Digital: The Quest to Regain Public TrustGovernment Digital: The Quest to Regain Public Trust
Alex Benay
216 pages

Building an internal digital government champions network

Jenny Cearns from GOV.UK’s Department of Health has a great post on cultivating a community of digital champions within government that mirrors what I know some chief data officers are doing around creating an internal network of data coordinators.

Both programs are aimed at creating community, efficient communications and collaboration and establishing an ongoing, modern-day education program that can serve as a solid foundation for digital awareness and momentum.

From Cearns:

“In a nutshell- the Champions help us and we help them. They’re our eyes and ears across the Department on how digitally savvy we are (or aren’t), and in the process, they get extra learning and development opportunities, whether that be a corporate objective, or a way of making their own working life smarter and more efficient.

“Ultimately being a Digital Champion is about having a ‘digital’ mindset, and by that, I mean being inquisitive and willing to try new things, whilst mindful of our work context and the security it demands. It’s about giving things a go, and thinking about how digital could benefit those we work with too.”

Developing a Digital Champions Network similar to what GOV.UK’s health department has allows for a central team to easily join forces with innovators across agencies or departments and exponentially infuse energy, awareness and action into innovation efforts such as digital and open data.

What’s great about this type of program is that it’s inclusive and scales potential for impact.

Full post: “How to be a Digital Champion

Doing/done: The beauty of GOV.UK’s ‘What we’re working on’ updates

GOV.UK’s occasional “What we’re working on” post is an excellent example of how government can share regular updates on recent accomplishments and what will be worked on next.

While GOV.UK doesn’t do it consistently, the simplicity (bullet points) of ‘What we’re working on’ gives clarity into its work, better insight into future developments and provides a sense of momentum (internally and externally) that government isn’t just a stale bureaucracy. Other ideas for inclusion on correspondence like this could be output data, such as number of forms processed, to show the breadth of impact.

I’d love to see other examples like this. If you have any, please feel free to send them to me at

GOV.UK updates digital service standards

GOV.UKThe GOV.UK team has updated established protocols that serve as the foundation for ensuring government digital teams provide high-quality citizen services.

Effective June 1, the refined Digital Service Standard pares down the number of points from 26 to 18 with a focus on user-centered design, open technologies, agile development practices and stronger emphasis on assisted digital support.

The standard is somewhat similar to the U.S. federal Digital Services Playbook and its 13 “plays” created to “help government build effective digital services.” The difference between the two being UK’s standard is a requisite, whereas the U.S. version is simply a guidance for best practices.

“A transactional service must meet each criteria to pass the Government Digital Service assessment,” GOV.UK states in the update. “If a service doesn’t pass it won’t appear on GOV.UK.”

Updated points:

  1. Understand user needs. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.
  2. Put a plan in place for ongoing user research and usability testing to continuously seek feedback from users to improve the service.
  3. Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with decision-making responsibility.
  4. Build the service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the manual.
  5. Build a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis and make sure that you have the capacity, resources and technical flexibility to do so.
  6. Evaluate what tools and systems will be used to build, host, operate and measure the service, and how to procure them.
  7. Evaluate what user data and information the digital service will be providing or storing, and address the security level, legal responsibilities, privacy issues and risks associated with the service (consulting with experts where appropriate).
  8. Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or provide a convincing explanation as to why this cannot be done for specific subsets of the source code).
  9. Use open standards and common government platforms where available.
  10. Be able to test the end-to-end service in an environment identical to that of the live version, including on all common browsers and devices, and using dummy accounts and a representative sample of users.
  11. Make a plan for the event of the digital service being taken temporarily offline.
  12. Create a service that is simple and intuitive enough that users succeed first time.
  13. Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK including using the design patterns and style guide.
  14. Encourage all users to use the digital service (with assisted digital support if required), alongside an appropriate plan to phase out non-digital channels/services.
  15. Use tools for analysis that collect performance data. Use this data to analyse the success of the service and to translate this into features and tasks for the next phase of development.
  16. Identify performance indicators for the service, including the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs) defined in the manual. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.
  17. Report performance data on the Performance Platform.
  18. Test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it.