I just might be repeating myself a little bit. But clearly, the Obama administration is setting a worldwide example of how to change a business through technology 2009 style. It went through my mind again when preparing for a panel on Tech Transformation, next week at the Forbes CEO Forum in Scotland. You see, it is one thing to get inspired by new technologies and understand how they can radically change business models – which is more than ever relevant in this period of downturn. But actually execute on these ideas and bring the promise to life: that may be the tougher challenge of the two.
I think they are doing both in Washington and we should all watch and learn from the patterns that are unfolding.
Barack Obama himself, to start with, is an excellent role model for any CEO that wants to grasp the potential of technology to transform business. He is obviously technology-savvy (without being a geek) and shows how to apply information technology in a pragmatic way. Many would argue that he got elected because of his smart use of Web 2.0 to reach out to his potential voters and mobilise a community. And after becoming elected he is still actively using all Internet channels to stay in touch with that community. Already in his campaign, he referred to technology as one of the most important tools to address the phenomenal challenges that America – indeed a complex business – is facing. Healthcare, education, energy, R&D: in the plans of Obama, technology would provide the breakthroughs to make his country leading again.
And now he is executing on the vision. Together with an impressive team.
On day one of his presidency, Obama issued a memorandum in which he announced an Open Government Directive: new technologies and approaches should be harnessed to create a government that is transparent, participatory and collaborative. And to walk the talk, he launched a three-step, highly collaborative process to create input for that directive. Blogging and wiki’s are used to brainstorm, discuss and finally draft proposals: a carefully facilitated – yet completely open – flow that should lead to interesting results.
Then Obama appointed the highly anticipated, first federal Chief Technology Officer ever. And with Aneesh Chopra, he got himself nothing less than an IT rock star. Chopra has proved to be a visionary technology leader in his former role as the Secretary for Technology for the Commonwealth of Virgina. In only three years he got Virginia to be award as the number one state in technology management and for good reasons, given the impressive flow of technology-driven success (in education, healthcare, broadband, to name a few). He also embraced a very participatory style of interacting with the state’s inhabitants and businesses, with the state much more in the role of an enabler of community-driven innovation – as the keystone in a ecosystem – rather than as the provider of final solutions.
Furthermore, Chopra is showing a very healthy appetite to deal with the typical innovation killers (rules & regulations, privacy, procurement, security, intellectual property, legacy, budget constraints) that tend to show up on the road from technology vision to execution. This is demonstrated in an excellent speech he delivered earlier this year – still in his old role – at the 5th State of the Net conference in Washington. He radiates so much enthusiasm for the change that can be enabled by technology and an open government that he easily gets away with brushing aside possible objections around privacy and security. A truly convincing technology leader and I highly recommend taking the 50 minutes to watch Chopra’s speech. Not in the least because the speaker – essentially being a chief architect himself – shows what the power is of applying a narrative style when explaining his ideas. If only some more architects and IT strategists would use compelling real-life examples as Chopra does in his speech (rather than concepts and diagrams), there would be so much more success in closing this infamous business / IT alignment gap.
After all, both sides are in need of some fresh ideas in these difficult times. And over there in Washington, they seem to have some interesting templates. Watch it closely.