Edit: I've now done a radio interview in connection with this post. That and other related analysis can be found starting from this link.
During the recent campaign, Barack Obama promised to name a national Chief Technical Officer. The blogosphere has now erupted in discussion as to who that should be. I, for example, recommend Charles Rossotti, a stellar entrepreneur and public servant, because of his unparalleled accomplishments in improving government IT. John Doerr, however, favors Bill Joy, a great technologist turned venture capitalist, presumably for his abilities as a technology visionary.
Clearly, Doerr and I aren't talking about the same thing. I'm recommending my best candidate for what would more properly be called a Chief INFORMATION Officer, while Doerr favors a true CTO. In this disagreement, I have a couple of heavyweights on my side, namely Vint Cerf (sort of) and, more important, Barack Obama himself. Here's Obama's official characterization of the role:
- Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.
- The CTO will have a specific focus on transparency, by ensuring that each arm of the federal government makes its records open and accessible as the E-Government Act requires. The CTO will also focus on using new technologies to solicit and receive information back from citizens to improve the functioning of democratic government.
- The CTO will also ensure technological interoperability of key government functions. For example, the Chief Technology Officer will oversee the development of a national, interoperable wireless network for local, state and federal first responders as the 9/11 commission recommended. This will ensure that fire officials, police officers and EMTs from different jurisdictions have the ability to communicate with each other during a crisis and we do not have a repeat of the failure to deliver critical public services that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Sure sounds like a get-things-done CIO – i.e., a technology implementation leader -- to me!
Now, I'm all in favor of having a visionary CTO in addition to the CIO, whether reporting to the CIO or otherwise. No matter how much reform there is of government procurement processes, technology acquisition cycles will surely remain long, and that calls for considerable technology-choosing astuteness when the opportunity for decision-making does present itself. But the need for a true CIO – whether called “CIO,” “CTO,” or “Abacus Czar” -- is compelling. Besides the security, communications interoperability, and transparency initiatives outlined above, we need an experienced technology implementation leader to:
Further suggestions for Obama Adminstration IT priorities are here.
Richard Koman seems to have views similar to mine. As he puts it:
The CTO job is a political job, a bureaucratic job. The person who succeeds in that job will be someone who can bring an entrepreneurial spirit into a government setting. They will have to familiar with the CTO positions at the whole range of federal agencies; they will have to know their way around Washington to some extent; they will know how to work with large, combative constituencies; and they will expect to be held accountable.
Koman suggests a state CTO for the job; I suggest Rossotti. Either way, what's most needed is somebody with the proven ability to get IT work done in government.
Edit: In response to commentary, I followed up with more specifics.
Edit: If the official Obama link ever goes away, this one may help as a substitute.
Curt Monash is a leading analyst of and strategic advisor to the software industry. Praised by Lawrence J. Ellison for his "unmatched insight into technology and marketplace trends," Curt was the software/services industry's #1 ranked stock analyst while at PaineWebber, Inc., where he served as a First Vice President until 1987. He subsequently co-founded Evernet, Inc., a $40 million networking systems integrator. Since 1990, he has owned and operated Monash Research, an analysis and advisory firm covering software-intensive sectors of the technology industry. In that period he also has been co-founder, president, or chairman of several other technology startups.
Curt has served as a strategic advisor to many well-known firms, including Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, AOL, CA, and Netezza. Curt earned a Ph.D. in mathematics (Game Theory) from Harvard University. He has held faculty positions in mathematics, economics and public policy at Harvard, Yale, and Suffolk universities.