Industry Insights

Governments Must Secure and Exploit the World’s Newest Natural Resource


It’s a small word, but carries huge risks and rewards for today’s government leaders.

The insidious threats from cyberterrorism are a real and ever-present danger.  Virtually every few weeks, we now hear about a new ransomware threat with a scary name – WannaCry, Petya … who knows what’s next?  What about the data breaches that never make it to the public domain?

The threats from data breaches that worry government officials extend to medical, food safety, protection of utilities and essential infrastructure such as transportation systems and even public trust in government institutions. Of the 9 billion records of data breached since 2013, only 4% were encrypted (source: 1   

Yet even as securing valuable data represents one of the biggest challenges facing public sector leaders, the abundance of that data – the world’s new natural resource – also holds a tremendous upside.  The opportunities for governments at every level to protect their citizens and national infrastructure, modernize operations, drive dramatic cost efficiencies and improve how services are delivered to citizens have never been greater.  

Consider, for example, that the City of Madrid aggregates data from local government systems, vendor invoices and citizen feedback to track the quality of maintenance work on public areas in real-time, like parks and trash collection, in turn reducing IT costs by 10-20 percent and the cost of some public services by up to 6 percent. In Clark County, California, the Department of Social Services uses data to ensure that citizens are connected to services that deliver the greatest impact and lasting outcomes, including the homeless population and those medically at risk. There are thousands of outstanding examples of government agencies taking a data- centric approach to reimagining their roles and to delivering their mandates.

As volumes of data that governments gather and use increases, so do the risks. The recent data breaches that we all read about illustrate the need for government agencies to fundamentally rethink the way that they secure their IT environment, especially the sensitive data that they hold.  Government agencies have increasingly embraced the need to take a holistic approach to information security – addressing policies, processes, people and technology topics in a cohesive way.

From a technological perspective, the systems designed to manage, secure, analyze and optimize data are progressing at an astounding pace.  

A prime example – I was at the launch of the new IBM z14 last week and found many of the features very relevant to challenges faced by government agencies around the world.  The IBM mainframe platform has been at the core of government operations in many countries around the world for decades. The latest avatar, the z14, is the world’s most powerful transaction system, capable of running more than 12 billion encrypted transactions per day. Perhaps most important to government data officers:  the system’s breakthrough encryption engine that, for the first time, makes it possible for organizations to encrypt all data associated with any application, cloud service or database all the time — inexpensively and easily without any software changes.

Pervasive encryption is a major technical achievement which is taking on added urgency to all organizations in the public and private sectors which do business in Europe, where the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation will take effect next May. A single infraction could carry a financial penalty up to 4 percent of global annual revenue — not pocket change!

For governments seeking to serve citizens in new ways, the platform makes it easy for mobile and cloud app developers to create new services using APIs and microservices to connect to existing data and core applications. 

Governments around the world are moving workloads to cloud environments to drive cost savings. To accelerate this trend, the new platform will serve as an encryption engine for cloud services.

In introducing the new mainframe technology, IBM also announced the opening of IBM Cloud Blockchain data centers in New York, London, Frankfurt, Sao Paolo, Tokyo and Toronto. These centers are all secured using IBM Z’s cryptography technology, an important layer of protection for governments looking to adapt blockchain.  The government of Dubai, for example, has already announced plans to leverage blockchain to fundamentally transform government operations and to pave the way for a paperless government over the next three years.

As I meet with government clients around the globe, I have great respect for the daunting challenges and responsibilities they face as our societies are transformed by the digital age. Thanks to the introduction of new platforms like the z14, government clients can redouble their focus on their core missions once they have ensured that they have made the right choices to protect their data platforms.


Sreeram Visvanathan is the Global Managing Director for Government at IBM.  Sreeram is based in Dubai and spends time with government clients around the world.

Download the Pervasive Encryption paper:


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