Google Public Sector ‘hitting our stride’ in government market, CEO says

Google Public Sector CEO Karen Dahut sits down with GovExec Editor in Chief Frank Konkel at the Google Cloud NEXT conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Google Public Sector CEO Karen Dahut sits down with GovExec Editor in Chief Frank Konkel at the Google Cloud NEXT conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Stephen Kaiser / GovExec

Washington Technology sibling publication, Nextgov/FCW caught up with Google Public Sector Chief Executive Officer Karen Dahut at Google Cloud NEXT.

In 2022, Google bet big on government business, standing up Google Public Sector. A few months later, Karen Dahut — who previously headed Booz Allen Hamilton’s multi-billion dollar global defense business — took the helm, where she’s led a team of Googlers in serving federal, state and local governments, as well as educational institutions, ever since.

Nextgov/FCW caught up with Dahut at the Google Cloud NEXT conference in Las Vegas on April 10 for an interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.

Nextgov/FCW: We are closing in on two years so far into your tenure. Talk about some of your big challenges, priorities and successes so far.

Dahut: First of all, I just have to say Google Public Sector has been beyond my imagination in terms of coming in and leading this incredible opportunity. And when I look back at a year and a half, roughly, of being on board, there are a couple of things that I'm so excited about. Our opportunity to recruit the best and brightest has been just simply amazing because they see the incredible opportunity that it is to bring Google technology to the public sector. We've had the pick of the litter.

A second highlight has been hearing from our customers— federal customers and state and local customers — about how excited they are to bring Google technology to bear on their missions. And not only are they bringing us in, they're partnering with us to help us build really next-generation technologies to support the mission. I love my job, what can I say? 

Nextgov/FCW: Can you talk about some of the inroads you've made in the government market? There are some really big deals that have been announced of late and great use cases showcased at NEXT regarding how different agencies are using your technology to improve citizen service delivery and meet their missions.

Dahut: We are really proud to be a cloud provider on both the [Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability] contract and the [Commercial Cloud Enterprise] contract. It gives us a broad scope of being able to deliver true, no-kidding, commercial cloud technology to the government mission. So that's important to understand at NEXT.

We’ve made so many announcements about our amazing Vertex AI platform — a vertically integrated enterprise-grade AI platform to be able to deliver not just AI, but on the promise of generative AI. So those things alone really differentiate us and allow us to serve our customers differently.

You mentioned some of our use cases in government. I'm super proud of the translation work we're doing for Minnesota, around being able to deliver on public safety to Minnesotans who don't speak English. I’m excited about our [Document AI] and contact center AI capabilities, and really delivering next-generation AI capabilities. So, I think this is just the beginning for us. We have big contracts, we have a lot of customers, but we're just now hitting our stride and building to scale.

Nextgov/FCW: At NEXT, you also announced achieving IL5 and IL6 accreditation. That’s a big deal for Google Public Sector because it means you can provide commercial cloud services to intelligence agencies and at the highest levels of the Defense Department. Can you unpack that for our audience?

Dahut: Being authorized on secret and top secret for the most stringent government requirements more than anything demonstrates Google's commitment to this market. I’m so proud of that. You know, I'm a mission junkie, former Navy officer, this is what I came to Google for: to be able to deliver on the promise of Google technology and those missions. What it really says about Google technologies is we go from commercial cloud, to assured workloads for [Impact Level 5], to Google Distributed Cloud Hosted for [Impact level 6] secret and top-secret data and information. And so we're bringing the same Google commercial cloud architecture across that continuum, which means we can deliver enterprise-grade commercial cloud technologies that includes AI and machine learning and data analytics that nobody else can really deliver in that continuum.

Nextgov/FCW: That is a differentiator. Talk a little bit more about that, because at NEXT, I've heard a lot of customers or prospective customers talking about what differentiates them and why they're interested in your services.

Dahut: First of all, I would back up and say on the day before Google Cloud NEXT started, we had our first ever national security day here in Las Vegas as a part of NEXT. Over 100 customers came to that. That's a big deal. And the interest, as well as the commitment to use our services, has never been more compelling.

Some of the missions they're interested in are language translation for analysis. As you can imagine, if there's a super important need to be able to translate documents for our national security community in a myriad of different languages. We can do that on commercial cloud grade technologies, as well as on [Google Distributed Cloud Hosted] and at the edge. Being able to deliver on the promise of AI and data analytics and being able to deliver different intelligence analytics products is interesting to our customers. And to be honest with you, they've partnered with us along the way. We didn't build GDCH in a closet somewhere and then came and tried to get it accredited; We really worked closely with the intelligence community and DOD on what they needed to be able to deliver a technology that we knew they would use.

Nextgov/FCW: Are there any particular relationships out there with industry partners, or with government customers, that you'd like to highlight? 

Dahut: There's one in particular I’d really like to highlight on the government customer side. We have had the opportunity to work closely with John Sherman, the DOD [chief information officer]. He's been a great advocate for us. He wants to bring Google to the table and he's really been really helpful to us and helping us understand what technology they need and how it needs to operate. So I consider him to be just an important partner to us in this endeavor.

Google is a partner-first company, we know that to be able to bring all of this technology to bear to our customers, we need strong partner relationships. So, with global systems integrators, like Accenture and Deloitte, we have strong relationships with them, and strategic partnerships where we're really going to market together. They know that market better than we do, we know our technology better than they do. And so this combination and this pairing, one plus one equals five. We're excited about our partner relationships.

Nextgov/FCW: One thing that’s been fascinating for me to watch is this sort of morphing of Google's view of government work. Go back a few years to 2018, the shift from then to now and you’re having a national security day at Google Next. It's a big pivot.

Dahut: It sure is, right? When I just look at it from this perspective: Here I am sitting at Google Cloud NEXT in the middle of this amazing technology, talking to you about how this technology can make a difference to the mission. And I think that demonstrates Google's incredible commitment to the U.S. government, to the public sector, to make these technologies available to them. Move forward a few years [from 2018] and the stand up of Google Public Sector in 2022, there was no more demonstrable commitment to this market than standing up a separate LLC within Google to focus on it.  

We are committed. There is no question about our desire to have impact in this market, and to be able to deliver on the promise of really great technology to the public sector mission.

Nextgov/FCW: It wouldn’t be a tech conference if we didn’t touch on AI. Google is famous for its AI work. Talk about how that is a differentiator for Google Public Sector.

Dahut: Google has been an AI first company since 2016. And we were doing generative AI inside of Google and as a part of all of our product portfolio long before it was considered cool.

And so fast forward to December of 2022 when it hit the scene, it sort of was like, ‘well, we've been doing this for a long time.’ But what we've done since then, and it is just a matter of fact around Google, if generative AI is going to take centerpiece in enterprise governments, enterprise customers, whether it's public sector or private sector, we're going to be very prominent in that space.

We have built an enterprise-grade, vertically integrated AI and generative AI stack that goes from infrastructure all the way up to Gen AI, whatever level, and all of those capabilities are available to our customers.

We see four prominent use cases for generative AI. In government, the first one is all around worker productivity, and how do you improve the effectiveness of the government worker? It's not about eliminating workers necessarily. It's being able to reduce their toil and allowing them to be more effective. Secondly, helping to automate end-to-end processes using AI, reducing toil and letting machines do what they do best. Thirdly is all around citizen engagement. You mentioned it, Frank, this idea that our citizens deserve a better experience of how they interact with government. And generative AI is a perfect tool suite to do that. And the last one is around building new products using generative AI and AI in general.

So the landscape and the table is set. And I think a lot of the announcements that have come out of NEXT really shows why Google is the leader in AI and generative AI, because we are building enterprise-grade capabilities, not consumer-grade capabilities.