5 Items Should Top Obama's Technology Agenda
From infrastructure to tech education, here's what I want to see on the to-do list for the next four years.
The presidential election is over. Now it is time to get to work. While the sweep of this year's presidential elections was overwhelming in money spent, media attention and endless (and sometimes mindless) commentary, the tasks facing President Obama and team for the next four years are also formidable. Here are my five top technology agenda items.
1. Technology Infrastructure
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Infrastructure was one of those background topics that was interesting but not at the forefront until Hurricane Sandy changed the agenda. Infrastructure covers a lot of territory, but the technology weaknesses uncovered by the winds and water of Sandy moved infrastructure to the top of the list. In the technology infrastructure, the telecom segment has traditionally been seen as the most formidable in terms of disaster recovery, redundancy and overall resiliency. I grew up in New England, where winter blizzards were the rule rather than the exception. While the power might disappear for a week or so, the phone system's dial tone was always comforting and available. However, bunker-built telecom switching centers don't work so well when they are underwater.
A smartphone-carrying public quickly overwhelms the current cell tower and backhaul infrastructure when disaster strikes. The vital importance of the communications infrastructure was recognized long ago as vital to overcoming disaster. The Internet was created to assure communications in the event of a nuclear attack. The good news is that cellular technology is on the verge of a big leap forward as micro cells, new backhaul capabilities and intelligent spectrum use systems are ready to move from the labs to the marketplace. The government's role is to find a balance between open competition and assuring a base level of communications availability should disaster strike. No easy task, but not impossible.
2. Technology Defense
Defense is one of the few topics that all parties can agree is a basic function of government. While matching up sizes and capabilities of armies, air forces and navies is fairly straightforward, matching up cyber security defenses versus threats is a lot more murky. Discussing cyber security is always one of those opaque conversations between transparency regarding what we know and not tipping our hand to what we fear. However, we do know that both the government and private worlds are becoming increasingly digital as machine-to-machine communications and the Internet-of-things sensor capabilities continues to transfer once analog systems into the digital framework. While the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2012 died in Congress, that defeat may afford the opportunity to come back with a more balanced approach that considers both security needs and privacy concerns. The private industry has a lot to teach the government in regards to quickly building security systems that can accommodate rapid change in technology as BYOD, cloud computing and mobile computing are rearranging the private security landscape. Melding cybersecurity privacy requirements with oversight, transparency and wider industry participation is a priority.
Employment and job creation was a centerpiece of the presidential election. We can't afford to waste the opportunity to train the workforce to take advantage of the jobs being created as mobility, big data, cloud computing and digital manufacturing transform the technology landscape. Gartner, at its recent IT Symposium, predicted the Big Data technology segment could see big growth but will be hobbled by the lack of technologists able to build the systems required. The current enterprise technology workforce is about to be upended by the growing need for software developers comfortable in the world of mobile applications, APIs, video, and smartphones as the primary device. Traditional educational institutions are scrambling to catch up. New online educational platforms are becoming available. It is an urgent requirement that government make sure educational opportunities are available to all segments of the society, including the disadvantaged, the disabled and military veterans, and schools prepare students for the skills needed to compete in a global economy.
4. Technology Enabled Government
The concepts of efficiency and government need not be in contradiction. Creating a government that is transparent, accessible and efficient is both a noble goal and fiscally prudent. Organizations promoting open government have developed, but government officials need to take a more active role. Voting systems that assure privacy, are digital in nature and allow wider participation among the franchised voting public is not an impossible dream. Reducing paperwork in the employment process, reporting process and benefits process is both sensible and offers cost savings. Using technology to allow the citizenry to make their voices heard, make more efficient their interaction with government at all levels and make government services available at the time of need (rather than only during regular office hours) will only encourage wider democratic (small d) citizen participation.
5. The Next Tech
Encouraging fundamental research has resulted in everything from the Internet to moon landings. The best research takes place when a big goal is announced -- landing someone on the moon -- and technologies are funded to meet those goals. The recent Mars unmanned craft landing is a great example of research used to enable a big goal. The list of big goals is long, and the need to fund the next big tech is crucial.
The agenda for the next four years is already long, but technology considerations need to be a vital part of the government's to-do list.
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