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2/12/2009
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Federal CTO Agenda: The Industry's Advice To Obama

Think big and transformational, advise two dozen industry leaders, from CEOs to CIOs. And get going now.

Tien Tzuo, CEO of tech startup Zuora, wants the federal CTO to push for development of "new technologies that increase the competitiveness of the United States." That effort could include the government developing its own social networking platform geared to the needs of governments and citizens, or developing other technologies to let "everyone participate in the political process online."

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, maps out two main priorities for the federal CTO. First, he or she must function as a "CIO for the federal enterprise," Atkinson says, by coordinating security, for instance, and establishing a common look and feel for government Web sites. Second, the CTO must push federal agencies to drive broader "digital transformation" of the U.S. economy for example, the General Services Administration could spur better use of IT by the U.S. construction industry if it reformed how it does construction procurement.

Is there no signature issue people can agree on? Surely, better broadband leaps to the top, right? Many of the leaders we spoke to did cite improving Internet access speeds, reach, affordability as a key issue. But just one in five people in our InformationWeek Analytics survey of 853 business technology professionals cite it as an urgent priority, far behind issues of security, for example.


Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff

Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff
For his and other executives' opinions, click here

And some tech leaders think that one's well covered already. "Stay away from broadband," advises Atkinson. "If you think of digital transformation as being 100, broadband currently takes up about 75% to 80% of the energy and thinking in this space in Washington. Other people will do broadband. The real attention should be on these other digital transformation issues."

In addition to furthering the goals of the Obama administration, the federal CTO like any good CIO or CTO will have to take a cost/benefit-based "balanced portfolio" approach in selecting what to focus on, says Patricia Coffey, VP of technology with Allstate Insurance and president-elect of the Society for Information Management. Eliminating system redundancies and deduplicating data are usually "fertile ground for quick wins," Coffey says. "And those successes usually free up funding for other things," whether it's improving government services or taking on issues such as the country's tech competitiveness.

Workday Founder, Dave Duffield

Workday Founder, Dave Duffield
For his and other executives' opinions, click here

Obama has only hinted about what's on his mind (and hadn't named a nominee as InformationWeek went to press). On his campaign's Web site, he promises to appoint a CTO "to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the 21st century." The 3,000-word outline also lays out an agenda that ranges from education to trade policy to competitiveness. The administration hasn't said when it will appoint a CTO or where this position will reside inside a department, in a Cabinet-level or other senior advisory role. One thing's clear: Obama will disappoint many tech leaders if the federal CTO sticks to a narrow agenda or is given less than a high-powered position.

Some think even a federal CTO isn't expansive enough, or won't be for long. SAS Institute CEO Jim Goodnight wonders if a Cabinet-level position will be needed to focus on U.S. technology competitiveness, comparing the challenge to the space race. United Stationers CIO Dave Bent likes the sound of a dedicated Information Technology Agency. "Imagine when cloud computing evolves into a true commodity service," Bent says. "It's the equivalent of having a secretary for energy." The most recent addition to the Cabinet was the secretary of Homeland Security, created by President George W. Bush in 2002.

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