3 June 2009 • 4:14 pm

U.S. CTO: “How many new billion-dollar businesses can we create?”

A story in today’s New York Times portrays Aneesh Chopra, the recently confirmed Chief Technology Officer of the United States. I am impressed by the weight of the job title alone: CTO of the entire country. Hmmm. The position was created by President Obama in fulfillment of a campaign promise. So how does Mr. Chopra, the former Secretary of Technology for the State of Virginia, describe his job? 

Mr. Chopra says that his top goal is economic development using government policy to create jobs and business around technology. “My job is to serve as the innovation platform champion in addressing private market opportunities in support of public priorities.”

When asked about his goals for the job, Mr. Chopra’s cited four objectives that were presented recently to the White House: 

  • Economic growth through innovation
  • Addressing presidential priorities through innovation platforms
  • Building the next-generation digital infrastructure
  • Fostering a culture of open and innovative government 

What strikes me about these goals is how similar they sound to those expressed by corporate CIOs, at least before the economic downturn. All one needs to do to echo typical corporate IT strategy is change the wording a bit, e.g. “Addressing enterprise strategic priorities….” and “Fostering a culture of openness and innovation.” 

Chopra’s top idea for economic growth is to change how the government looks at the money it spends on research and development. Rather than purely thinking about basic research, the government should focus on investing in technologies that can be developed. A first step is to find ways to actually measure how much research is being commercialized. “There is an implicit assumption that R.&D. investment will lead to job growth and economic success,” he says. “The measurement question will lead us to think about how do we begin to assess the outcomes.”

Chopra’s talk of platforms echoes the Silicon Valley concept that companies become most valuable when they offer services that other companies integrate with. Mr. Chopra wants the government itself to use the latest tools and technologies, just as the Obama campaign was quick to use social networking and other trendy techniques.

Intrigued? There is much to learn about Mr. Chopra, including this admiring review of his qualifications, and a worthwhile 50-minute video (below) of a recent speech talking about technology and government while with the State of Virginia.

According to the NYT article, Chopra proposed two measures for his own performance. First: “Can we achieve the president’s goals better, faster, cheaper through technology?” And second: “How many new billion-dollar businesses can we create by unlocking government data or government policy?”

I admire his ambition, and his ideas. Having worked closely with CIOs in state and federal government, I appreciate the magnitude of his challenge of driving change within government IT organizations. Godspeed, Mr. Chopra.

Comments are closed.