The director-general of the Office of National Intelligence, Andrew Shearer, is concerned that the risk-averse nature of government procurement could prevent governments adopting new technologies from the private sector.
Shearer also revealed that Australia’s intelligence agencies’ long-running top secret cloud project is being built with a focus on interoperability with Australia’s two AUKUS partners, the US and the UK.
In a “fireside chat” at a gathering convened by America’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Shearer said the long history of government delivering technology innovation, particularly out of its defence apparatus, has been “turned on its head”.
With most disruptive technology now coming out of the private sector, Shearer said, technology partnership between government and the private sector is “not just important but critical”.
Using those partnerships to take advantage of new technologies needs “an element of humility … in our thinking,” he said.
“We tend to have systems that are frankly pretty risk-averse,” Shearer said, and while “robust procurement” rules are important, “if we don’t reassess our risk appetite … I think we’re going to fail”.
In particular, he said, today’s intelligence community needs to avoid building “tomorrow’s legacy system”, a difficult challenge given that government procurement means systems are often “legacy systems by the time they’re delivered”.
“That’s going to be challenging for our wider political oversight systems”, he said.
Interoperability in the top-secret cloud
Shearer also said the long-running top secret cloud project, first kicked off in 2020, now has an increasing focus on interoperability with US and UK systems.
Shearer said the project would “transform our work as agencies, but also open up a shared collaborative space that will really reinforce this sense of working together, as a genuine community”.
He emphasised the importance of the “ability to share vast amounts of data and work on it together”.
“As we thought about that project, we were designing in interoperability with our most important partners right from the start.”
The ability to share with the US and UK experience on similar projects has “helped us think through the problems, avoid some of the pitfalls, get to a solution sooner”.
Deepening the agencies’ cooperation is “more than an opportunity, it’s an imperative,” he said.