The Technology Implications of the Obama Win

A very hot topic among all technologists, from DC to Silicon Valley, is how the Obama election will change the technology landscape.   There are five key megatrends in IT today, and we should analyze change in the context of each.  These five megatrends in IT are:

  • Convergence and trend towards unified communications and user empowerment
  • Globalization and increasing internationalization of IT and demographic shifts
  • Increasing open development of software and hardware
  • Power, Cooling and Space (PCS) impacting data centers and every place computing is done
  • Increasing pace of technology development and probability of disruption

President-Elect Obama has long articulated a technology strategy on his website.  It is most definitely worth a read by all enterprise technologists since it will form the basis of many of his policies and actions (one of the key leaders coordinating this plan was Potomac Officer’s Club speaker Julius Genachowski). For some context, here is a paragraph from the technology strategy that struck a cord with many technologists:

Bring Government into the 21st Century: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Obama and Biden believe in the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability and willingness to give and to give back to make government work better. 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.

But perhaps more important than his stated technology platform is the energy behind the election and the new spirit that will be coming with him into government.   Part of that energy was discussed by Tim O’Reilly in a 29 Oct 2008 Endorsement.  A key slice of that endorsement read:

I also believe that in an Obama administration, there will be significant investment in applying the lessons learned from internet campaigning into the tools of internet governance. There are efforts already underway to build better tools for two-way communication, for government transparency, and for harnessing innovations from outside the public sector to improve the work of the public sector.

Based on the above and my views of enterprise technology today, the following is an analysis of the impact of the election on the key IT megatrends:

Convergence and trend towards unified communications and user empowerment

Consumerization and user empowerment has been the most important trend in IT for several years and is driving many other trends in the industry.  This trend is almost a force unto itself and I don’t believe the Obama election or the excitement it generated will do anything to change this trend.   In fact, we could argue that this trend itself picked the next president.  The Obama team made the best use of the consumer technologies touching people everywhere, including social media, cell phones and of course the Internet.  So his team had people who understood the megatrend and took action to accelerate it into their campaign.   What if the critically beneficial trend of consumerization of IT had not been in place?  If consumerization had not been driving IT would this election have resulted this way?  Hard to tell, but to the point of my analysis, this trend is a force of nature of its own and I do not believe the exciting results of the election will change it other than to help move more social media into old government organizations.

But, we can assume that the senior team of the President Elect, the ones who will be leading the transition of the government, know the power of social media and consumer IT very well and will accelerate the use of Web2.0/Gov2.0/Social Media in government.  Enterprise technologists in and out of government should understand this and should be thinking now how to accelerate these technologies in the right way into their organizations.

Globalization and increasing internationalization of IT and demographic shifts

There is a global competition for talent and for several years it has seemed like the US was on the loosing side of this trend.  There is a significant chance that this trend will continue, with Asia especially generating demand for technology talent.  But the energy of the US and the huge respect the country is gaining because of this election may be a mitigating factor in the competition for talent.

Increasing open development of software and hardware

This too is a trend all its own.  Open source software is clearly a force which is unstoppable already.  Here too, the Obama campaign appears to have leveraged open source sofware by extensive use of free and open software like MySQL.  (Sun Microsystem’s MySQL is the open source technology platform that powered BarakObama.com).   As long as closed proprietary software offers innovation there will be a place for it, and we have seen nothing predicting the imminate demise of the proprietary powerhouses of industry.  However, in all likelihood the open source software innovations like Open Office will see significant growth in the federal space and that will only accelerate its growth outside the federal space.

Power, Cooling and Space (PCS) impacting data centers and every place computing is done

Although this is another trend that is bigger than any campaign or even the Presidential election, we have to assume that the energy savings, power savings and space savings of modernizing IT will be benefits that are highly regarded by the new administration and at least for the federal IT enterprise these trends will continue. This will help in many other areas since significant help with power/space/cooling issues requires modernization and modernization, when done right, enhances functionality.

Increasing pace of technology development and probability of disruption.

I firmly believe that the speed of technology development will continue to accelerate.   At this time I don’t see the election as having a big impact on this trend, at least in the short term.   It is clear that the new administration will be working hard to capture the energy and excitement of the populace to move the country forward on several issues, and in doing so that will hopefully improve the environment for startups and other technology generators.  But the bottom line here is that positive change and disruption of enterprise IT is going to be a fact of life and would be no matter who was elected.

The Significance of the Above

Now what is the meaning of these changes?  Here is a short list of assessments:

  • Look for even more use of grid/cloud computing.  This will include more cloud computing in government.  Vivek Kundra is the model here.   His pioneering efforts in leveraging cloud computing have generated real benefits many of us knew were possible but few of had the courage to implement.
  • Look for an enhancement to the current CNCI (Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative).   IT security will be enhanced in government.  With a strong federal CTO we can expect some changes to the current approach to the CNCI.  I’m always reminded by experts that there is no such thing as a totally secure computer, but the fact is we are now able to set a very high standard for our vision.  The vision must be that most, if not all, unauthorized intrusions into federal systems are to be prevented.  A strong CTO can help make us pursue that vision.
  • Expect to see much much more use of open source software and hardware in the federal enterprise, which will continue to drive more adoption by open source software in commercial sectors.   Expect to see a more widespread adoption of Open Office, Linux, Solaris, ZFS,  and MySQL.   This will be done for agility, flexibility, security and expense.
  • Expect to see large pushes for automation of backend IT processes.
  • Although federal IT budgets will be under significant downward pressure, good ideas regarding virtualization, automation and other high payoff disruptive technologies will be welcome and there will still be IT modernization efforts underway throughout the government.

Do you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts?  Please give us your comments.

The Technology Implications of the Obama Win - top government contractors - best government contracting eventBob Gourley is the co-founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Bob blogs on enterprise IT at CTOvision.com

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