Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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2/20/2009
06:33 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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The Case For A U.S. Innovation Officer

A recent Business Week column hits on a theme -- the need for a federal position to champion innovation -- that tech leaders such as Sybase CEO John Chen raise in our own coverage of what the federal CTO's agenda should be.

A recent Business Week column hits on a theme -- the need for a federal position to champion innovation -- that tech leaders such as Sybase CEO John Chen raise in our own coverage of what the federal CTO's agenda should be.In the Business Week column, Thomas Kuczmarski, who runs an innovation consultancy and teaches at Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, makes a powerful case for a Cabinet-level Secretary of Innovation:

My point -- and it applies to economic recovery as much as it does to product development -- is that innovation is a multidisciplinary and disciplined process that needs to be managed and led. If everybody is in charge, then nobody is, and little gets accomplished, if anything at all. Or worse -- and this may sound familiar to anyone who has followed Washington -- there is a lot of action based only on guesswork, not on a careful exploration of what really is needed.

For our package on the federal CTO, we asked more than two dozen IT leaders what should top the agenda for this new CTO position, which President Obama has promised to create. Sybase's Chen articulates the innovation agenda most clearly, urging President Obama to look beyond government's use of technology and focus a CTO on assuring that the U.S. broadly is doing all it can -- from education to trade to tax policy -- to encourage private sector innovation. He suggests the title not even include "technology," and instead be called something like a chief innovation officer.

I personally don't favor this broad innovation focus for the CTO. The other logical role for the CTO, instead of nurturing private sector innovation, is to make the government a better, more innovative user of IT itself. To me, this is such an enormous yet tangible opportunity, with the potential to have great ripple effects for innovation to the broader economy, that it should be consume the CTO's agenda.

But here's what I love about the way both Kuczmarski and Chen advocate for a federal innovation leader: It's 100% innovation. All or nothing. It's not 1 part innovation champion, 1 part government IT leader.

Either job is huge and demands the undiluted attention of that person and his or her team. Having one person dabble in both roles will only mean neither gets done well.

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