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Some advice for Aneesh Chopra, Obama's New CTO

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President Obama has announced the long awaited choice for his Chief Technology Officer -- Aneesh Chopra. Says Tim O'Reilly "Aneesh Chopra is a rock star. He's a brilliant, thoughtful change-maker. He knows technology, he knows government, and he knows how to put the two together to solve real problems. We couldn't do better." http://www.technology.virginia.gov/OfficeInfo/chopraBio.cfm To form your own opinion see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfoBMNhjHU8

Chopra will join his former colleague Vivek Kundra, the national Chief Information Officer, on a team tasked with using information technology and the Internet to improve government and the country as a whole. While Kundra will focus on government operations Chopra will have a broader role. Obama said in his Saturday radio address that "Aneesh and Jeffrey [Zients, the newly appointed Chief Innovation Officer] will work closely with our Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for setting technology policy across the government, and using technology to improve security, ensure transparency, and lower costs," he said.

There has been much discussion about the creation of a Chief Technology Officer. I believe this is a very appropriate and necessary position that can make a stronger and better America. Most smart people share my view that Chopra is a good choice. http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/04/aneesh-chopra-great-federal-cto.html

This job has a very broad and I believe critical mandate, Indeed, according to a white house description of the job the CTO needs to develop "national strategies for using advanced technologies to transform our economy and our society, such as fostering private sector innovation, reducing administrative costs and medical errors using health IT, and using technology to change the way teachers teach and students learn."

So, Chopra will need a framework to tackle how technology can achieve its potential. This should comprise five elements:

1. Ensuring Access

A new technology strategy should ensure universal access to digital technologies, not just in the US but globally. President elect Obama emphasized that many communities in the US are underserved and market forces alone will not solve this problem. While market forces should drive expansion of the web, governments can help. Urgent action and new partnerships are required and Obama's proposed infrastructure plan is a step in the right direction. Infrastructure is more than roads and bridges.

Moreover, the US would be a much more prosperous country if most of the world weren't lagging so far behind. Technological advancement in other countries improves the human condition, creates new wealth and expands the marketplace for our products. We need a digital equivalent of the post WWII Marshall Plan, where the US helped rebuild countries whose economies had been pummeled by the war.

Today's world leaders should launch a global initiative to take broadband to every corner of the planet. The costs are minor when compared to the benefits. This infrastructure can enable the adoption of collaborative innovation and new business models required for economic growth and development. If you're a young person in India, China, Brazil or any one of a number of emerging Eastern European countries, technological advancements mean that you can join the global economy on an equal footing. Global production networks, increasing literacy and numeracy, information technologies, and falling trade barriers would make the world smaller, flatter, and open.

2. Creating the conditions for a vibrant technology industry.

To restore job growth, America needs a vibrant, innovative and growing technology sector. The IT industry is converging with the biotechnology and energy industries and is at the heart of the American economy. We need laws and taxes that reward creativity and ingenuity, and focus the energies of the technology industry itself toward projects that will yield maximum benefit. Further, technology is unlike other sectors of production in that it provides the foundation for growth for all other sectors. We've seen how recent low-cost business infrastructures (from free Internet telephony to global outsourcing platforms) enable thousands upon thousands of small producers to create products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past. Because of advancements in information technologies, individuals can now share knowledge, computing power, bandwidth and other resources to create a wide array of goods and services that make everybody more productive. A vibrant technology industry is critical to this, and barriers to entry for new technologies should be reduced as much as possible. Among other things, government can be a model user of IT, in turn stimulating growth of the industry.

3. Fostering collaboration

We need to catalyze initiatives in areas such as science, the environment, education and health care so that the benefits of technology are brought to all citizens. Science is changing due to the Web 2.0 and new models of collaboration. Scientific breakthroughs are beginning to occur as the capability for invention on a global scale is brought to bear on the world's biggest problems. We are in the early days of the first-ever global movement to solve a problem -- global warming as tens of millions are becoming engaged on the Internet. Sophisticated use of technology in education would boost student achievements and reduce the drop out rate. The digital media enables students to be treated as individuals -- to have highly customized learning experiences based on their background, individual talents, age level, cognitive style, interpersonal preferences, and so on. Software programs would structure and tailor the learning experience for the child. Students would be more active, discussing, debating, researching, and collaborating on projects. Students would find education more stimulating and rewarding. Technology will be the foundation of a universal, cost-effective health care sector as well. We can similarly introduce new technologies to the health care sector, with the goal of increasing access to good health care, raising the quality of health care, and reducing costs.

4. Ensuring that technology serves people.

Much legislation is due for a re-write to make it appropriate for the digital age. Copyright laws should reward creative artists but also allow fair use of content by the purchaser. Consumers should be encouraged to sample new creative work and share their findings with friends. Patent laws should discourage frivolous patents and be designed to ensure that new ideas are brought to market and not used as impediments to innovation by others. Privacy laws should protect people who want to be selective in how much information they share with others, particularly corporations. The neutrality of the Internet needs to be protected.

5. The Web-enabled Transformation of Government and Democracy

Chopra will need to cooperate with Vivek Kundra, the Federal CIO in his challenge of using information technology to dramatically modernize government and bring it into the digital era. Reinvention of government is an idea whose time has come. One aspect is to improve service to citizens as customers of government. The goal is to identify breakthrough strategies that rethink the core value of key government services, dramatically improve service delivery, reduce costs, and renew administrative processes. Another is to change the role of the citizen as a shareholder in government. 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.

At a recent meeting of the World Economic Forum, a working group on government recommended digital brainstorm to kickstart Democracy 2.0. Each government leader should create a bold citizen engagement initiative, beginning with a three day citizen jam inviting all citizens to participate in a discussion of an important issue. This will lead to other initiatives to engage citizens in solving important economic crisis, climate change. President Obama should be at the forefront of such efforts. As the first President of the Internet Age he needs to harness the web not just for elections but to govern.

Don Tapscott is the Chaiman of the Texas-based think tank nGenera Insight. He has worked with government leaders around the world and is currently leading a $4 million syndicated program called "Government 2.0: Wikinomics Government and Democracy." He has written 13 widely read books on the impact of the Internet on society, including Paradigm Shift, The Digital Economy and Wikinomics. His 1996 book Growing Up Digital defined the Net Generation and the sequel, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, was published in November 2008. He is also an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.