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Don Tapscott

Obama appoints first member of technology team

By all accounts, Vivek Kundra is an excellent choice by President Obama for the new position of chief information officer of the United States.   The 34-year-old Kundra was plucked from his current position of chief technology officer of the District of Columbia.  In his new job, Kundra will be responsible for the federal government’s $71 billion yearly spending in technology.

According to the New York Times, in just 19 months with the District, Mr. Kundra moved to post city contracts on YouTube and to make Twitter use common in his office.  His office’s Web site offers a “Digital Public Square” with links to information on everything from crime to parking to tourism. It provides a map of free wi-fi hot spots, a public library finder, leaf-collection schedules; even a widget to view live snow-plow progress.

As chief information officer, Kundra’s job is to oversee the spending on technology within government.  If Obama appoints an equally creative chief technology officer (a job he promised to create during the campaign) to oversee technology outside of government, the two working together would be a powerful and positive force for change.

As I have argued before, there is no shortage of work to be done by the chief technology officer.  The to-do list would include:

1. Ensuring access

A new technology strategy should ensure universal access to digital technologies, not just in the US but globally.  President elect Obama emphasized that many communities in the US are underserved and market forces alone will not solve this problem.  While market forces should drive expansion of the web, governments can help.  Urgent action and new partnerships are required and Obama’s proposed infrastructure plan is a step in the right direction.  Infrastructure is more than roads and bridges.

Moreover, the US would be a much more prosperous country if most of the world weren’t lagging so far behind.  Technological advancement in other countries improves the human condition, creates new wealth and expands the marketplace for our products.

2.  Creating the conditions for a vibrant technology industry.

To restore job growth America needs a vibrant, innovative and growing technology sector. The IT industry is converging with the biotechnology and energy industries and is at the heart of the American economy.   We need laws and taxes that reward creativity and ingenuity, and focus the energies of the technology industry itself toward projects that will yield maximum benefit. Further technology is unlike other sectors of production in that it provides the foundation for growth for all other sectors. We’ve seen how recent low-cost business infrastructures (from free Internet telephony to global outsourcing platforms) enable thousands upon thousands of small producers to create products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past.

3.  Fostering collaboration

We need to catalyze initiatives in areas such as science, the environment, education and health care so that the benefits of technology are brought to all citizens.  Science is changing due to the Web 2.0 and new models of collaboration.  Scientific breakthroughs are beginning to occur as the capability for invention on a global scale is brought to bear on the world’s biggest problems.  We are in the early days of the first-ever global movement to solve a problem – global warming as tens of millions are becoming engaged on the Internet.

4. Ensuring that technology serves people

Much legislation is due for a re-write to make it appropriate for the digital age.  Copyright laws should reward creative artists but also allow fair use of content by the purchaser.  Consumers should be encouraged to sample new creative work and share their findings with friends.  Patent laws should discourage frivolous patents and be designed to ensure that new ideas are brought to market and not used as impediments to innovation by others.  Privacy laws should protect people who want to be selective in how much information they share with others, particularly corporations.  The neutrality of the Internet needs to be protected.

5. The Web-enabled transformation of government and democracy

This would  partially overlap the CIO’s mandate. We need to use technology to dramatically modernize government and bring it into the digital era. Reinvention of government is an idea whose time has come.  One aspect is to improve service to citizens as customers of government. The goal is to identify breakthrough strategies that rethink the core value of key government services, dramatically improve service delivery, reduce costs, and renew administrative processes.

Tags: Government


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