Assembling a CTO: Everyone has an opinion

Experts have suggestions for Obama and his CTO

For this week’s issue, Federal Computer Week tapped the expertise of three people who are in a good position to offer advice and perspective to President-elect Barack Obama about the role of a federal chief technology officer. But other technology experts have also spoken up, with no shortage of opinions. Here is a sampling of what they are saying. Links to each of the articles and blogs cited in this article are available at www.fcw.com/theweek.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Don Tapscott, author of “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything,” suggests that the new CTO tackle five basic priorities: ensuring access; creating the conditions for a vibrant technology industry; fostering collaboration; ensuring that technology serves people; and overseeing the Web-enabled transformation of government and democracy.

In discussing transformation, Tapscott invokes a familiar concept — the reinvention of government — but recasts it in more expansive terms than the Clinton administration did in the 1990s.

Beyond improving government services, the Obama administration should aim to “change the role of the citizen as a shareholder in government,” Tapscott wrote. “We should re-examine the nature of democratic institutions, the role of the private sector, the relationship between the citizen and the state, the future of the nation-state, and new requirements for governance in a global, networked economy.”

French Caldwell, a vice president at Gartner, sees two possible approaches to the job. One is a classic CTO whose job “is to try to put some cohesion and common architecture around the IT investments of federal agencies,” Caldwell wrote in his Gartner blog.

However, an alternative approach that gives the CTO an opportunity to assist in “in reinvigorating the role of technology (not just IT) as the engine of American economic prowess and success is one that would fit…top-drawer candidates for CTO well,” Caldwell wrote. “It’s an outward-facing role, and if given some control over R&D budgets at critical idea factories like [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and NASA, it could be a functional role.”

But he adds one caveat: If the CTO does not have any budgetary control, “no matter what the role entails — super-CIO or economic-CTO — anyone in it will be ignored by the agencies.”

Dan Tynan, proprietor of the “Culture Crash” blog at Computerworld’s Web site, suggests that the CTO start by developing a more reasoned process for deciding on technology upgrades. In other words, “stop wasting billions of dollars on tech that’s already obsolete or unworkable,” Tynan wrote.

He also said the CTO should create a security infrastructure for the federal government “so we don’t find ourselves where Estonia was in May 2007 — all government operations taken down by foreign hackers with an agenda.”

Finally, Tynan said he seconds Obama’s proposal to ensure open access to government data. That would require the CTO to “work with other agencies to disband the cult of secrecy that has shrouded government operations for the past eight years,” he wrote. 

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