It’s not official yet but word is out that Obama will nominate Aneesh Chopra as our first federal CTO. Tim O’Reilly wrote a good post about him which I would encourage you to read, as much for O’Reilly’s insights as for the comments to the post.
While I left a comment on O’Reilly’s post, I wanted to post it here, slightly expanded. This role is critical for the future of the US, not just for the vision it must provide but also for the excitement it must build for technology itself. If the US is to partner with other countries to drive innovation we must have someone who is able to excite corporate leaders and politicians by creating and executing on a vision for the future that drives growth across the board. This CTO must also avoid being perceived as isolationist as it will be critical for the US to truly partner with other countries. Through partnerships we can drive innovation on environment technologies, space exploration, financial systems, etc..
Clearly, the choice of Federal CTO was not going to please everyone. However, Tim O’Reilly says it mostly right when he says “We couldn’t do better”. I would modify it only slightly to say “We couldn’t do better at this point in time”.
- Chopra, as an insider with some clear vision will be able to engage and excite those internal to the government and many of the outsiders. He will have work to do, building bridges, but as someone familiar with the political arena he is prepared. Someone from the private sector would struggle in this regard and likely lessen the belief that this role is needed.
- Chopra appears to be a capable partner for the CIO. His vision and his actions around security are not as critical as people are making it out to be. The CIO is in charge for driving these policies, not the CTO. Furthermore, the CIO will be the one, working jointly with Chopra, to streamline, I hope, processes like payroll, IT governance, etc..
- I am pleased that Chopra is not someone who appears to fall in love with shiny new technologies. He is someone who has demonstrated an ability to recognize a problem, and solve it with technology (not the other way around).
However, it will be important for him to become the unifying force between government and private enterprise. I hope to see him embrace the private sector by:
- Partnering in setting the national technology strategy. Setting up technology councils with a mix of corporate and government visionaries will be key.
- Bringing domestic and international corporations into the fold to deliver on the vision. Again, we must partner both domestically and internationally to succeed in today’s world.
If this partnering is done correctly it will also act to give CTOs from outside the traditional government career path deeper insights into what it will take to be successful as the Federal CTO. Who knows, one day Corporate America may get their wish.
Aneesh, good luck in the new role.