Two years ago, under the moniker Innovation Mandate, InformationWeek fielded a survey and conducted scores of interviews to gauge whether U.S. IT pros and the industry at large think this country is declining as a global technology leader--and if so, what we can do about it. When asked to describe where the U.S. stands in the global IT industry, 63% of the 624 business technology pros who responded to that 2010 survey characterized the U.S. as "a strong player, but losing its lead on a global scale," while 5% saw the U.S. as "a former leader whose best days are behind it." Only 32% of respondents still saw the U.S. IT industry as "a global leader positioned to grow its influence."
How have views changed in two years? We fielded an updated survey in April (download our full, updated Innovation Mandate report), and the results are in: IT pros are slightly more optimistic about the state of U.S. technology leadership, though their opinions about the most pressing priorities and competitive threats, as well as which IT vendors and nations are taking the mantle of leadership and which are falling behind, have shifted a bit in two years.
Responding to our latest survey were 552 business technology pros at a range of U.S. companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. The same percentage as in 2010--63%--think the U.S. is a strong IT player but losing its global lead. The percentage who are more optimistic--who think it's a global leader positioned to grow its influence--rose slightly, to 34% from 32%. Only 3% of respondents think the U.S. is a former IT leader, compared with 5% two years ago.
What, Me Worry?
As for the main factors preventing the U.S. from growing as a global IT leader, the results of the recent survey are pretty consistent with those from 2010. Still topping the list of concerns is "shortsighted decisions that are shipping tech jobs and ultimately innovation abroad," selected as one of the most important three factors by 67% of the 362 survey respondents who think the U.S. is a former technology leader or is losing its lead, compared with 66% two years ago. Likewise, the No. 2 and No. 3 factors thought to be limiting U.S. technology leadership are the same in the 2012 survey as in 2010: "failure of the educational system to produce workers who excel in STEM" and "lack of leadership at the federal policy-making level" (see chart below).
The biggest shifts since 2010 have to do with intellectual property and perceptions about U.S. IT worker productivity and ambition. In the 2010 survey, only 18% of respondents cited "failure to protect intellectual property developed in the U.S." as one of the top three factors holding back the U.S. IT industry. But that percentage jumped to 28% this year, as more technology R&D and design work gets farmed out to companies in other countries, or as news surfaces that foreign companies and governments are trying to steal that U.S. IP. Meantime, 21% of the IT pros we surveyed in 2010 worried about "a corporate culture where tech workers no longer are 'hungry' enough to out-innovate counterparts based abroad," but only 15% see that as a top concern today.
Responses to our question about what the U.S. government's role should be in supporting IT innovation show attitudes shifting subtly away from such reliance. (Multiple responses were allowed.) About the same percentage of respondents to our 2012 and 2010 surveys think the government's role should be to support basic and applied research at the university level (59% vs. 60%) and federal level (58% in both surveys). But the percentage of respondents who want the government to provide R&D tax credits to private industry declined, to 54% from 63%. Also declining is the percentage of respondents who want the government to fund big technology programs such as broadband, smart grid, and electronic medical records (38% in 2012 versus 45% in 2010). Where IT pros want more government involvement (or, more accurately, don't want less) is in regulation: 51% of respondents called for less IT regulation two years ago compared with 46% this year.