Readers of CTOvision are all familiar with Aneesh Chopra, the hard working mission-focused technologist who helped modernize the Commonwealth of Virginia’s IT as Virginia Secretary of Technology and then helped promote technological innovation throughout the federal enterprise and across the country as our nation’s first federal Chief Technology Officer.
Aneesh’s leadership style has combined elements of technical acumen, mission understanding, vision creation/communication and objective focused persistence. The results created from this leadership style are worth study not just by the technology crowd, but by leaders of any large organization.
Aneesh is running for lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We recently asked him for his views on technology, leadership and innovation and share the results of our conversation below:
GOURLEY: Thanks Aneesh for the time today, I know you are one of the busiest guys in show business and it is nice of you to take time to share thoughts with our readers. First off I’d like to ask about one of your more successful nation-wide initiatives, the Open Data effort. We watched as you built a large coalition of supporters for what was at first a concept, then a plan, then a highly successful approach to opening up federal government data for use by citizens and entrepreneurs. Are there similar things that can be done at state levels regarding Open Data?
CHOPRA: Absolutely! Open Data initiatives at the federal level were actually built on similar initiatives at the local level, and are clearly scaling both domestically and abroad. States are uniquely positioned to release data on crime, healthcare, economic growth, education and energy consumption. We believe by providing government data via standard (machine readable) formats, we can open these rich sources of information up to our entrepreneurs and researchers to build new products and services that solve real-world problems. Our efforts to open data at the federal level via platforms like data.gov can, and should, be replicated across the state and local levels.
GOURLEY: And what about education?
CHOPRA: Virginia just released data from its longitudinal data system that includes the average first-year earnings of recent graduates from two-year and four-year colleges (See Post Completion Wages of Graduates ). This first-of-its-kind data is meant to empower families as they make difficult school enrollment and career decisions. By ensuring this data is discoverable and accessible via open formats, we can spur a growing array of products and services competing to guide families through these choices.
GOURLEY: Our readers know data and appreciate the movement to make more government data open. But in times of decreasing budgets how do you express the value of this construct to our taxpayer/citizens? Do you have any indication that open data supports the economy?
CHOPRA: We found in our work at the federal level that open data initiatives do not require significantly more funds, especially if openness is “baked in” at the outset. Even more interesting, if you build in open APIs, and design a business model around acquiring “substitutable applications,” you can lower the total projected costs by leveraging the private sector. As an example, consider the data sources powering the federal government’s healthcare.gov site. Users can access healthcare data via this destination site, but it is fully expected that 90% of the eventual users of this data will originate from a third-party application consuming the API. That alleviates pressure on constantly updating and improving the “user experience” on the .gov site as there would be an ever growing portfolio of alternative services.
GOURLEY: Do you have any indication that open data can facilitate economic growth?
CHOPRA: The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” Open data has already contributed significantly to economic growth for the country. One of the biggest examples is the decision by President Reagan (and later, Bill Clinton) to open up the Global Positioning System (GPS) for private sector use. The GPS market today is an estimated $90 billion. Weather is another classic example as the industry is valued more than $5 billion, all powered by satellite and sensor data from NOAA. Besides these large examples there are many smaller ones that are helping create jobs and better serve citizens. McKinsey estimates that key segments of the US economy in need of productivity growth – health, energy, education – all contain vast amounts of government-held data that will be re-purposed to job creating products and services.
GOURLEY: Regarding Virginia, What talents do you bring to the Commonwealth?
CHOPRA: Throughout my public sector life, I’ve emphasized problem solving through collaboration, not partisanship. I recently studied 17 bills Governor Kaine signed into law in the technology and innovation space – from open education resources to broadband and R&D policy – and each one included a Republican sponsor. At the federal level, President Obama collaborated with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jay Rockefeller to sign his National Wireless Initiative into law; and Congressman Eric Cantor on improving access to capital for high growth startups. My hope is both parties can come together to foster the conditions for innovators and entrepreneurs to invent lower cost, higher value approaches to address our health, energy and education challenges.
GOURLEY: Can a Lt Governor have any impact on employment rates in the state?
CHOPRA: Yes, if the office holder utilizes its convening power more effectively. For example, a Lt. Governor could champion the sharing of data between and among our public and private sectors to spark new ideas in health care, energy and education; or the introduction of new products and services like PlugGED In Virginia that completely redesigned the curriculum for adults seeking marketable skills (combining a GED, a Microsoft IT certificate, and a hands-on experience).
In areas like education, especially in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields, the Lt. Governor can facilitate better handoffs between the federal, state, and local levels of government and handshakes between the public and private sector. These opportunities typically require no new legislative authority or funding levels, but do require leadership.
GOURLEY: Virginia, as you know, has a very active tech scene with tremendous schools and universities, great high tech firms and fantastic infrastructure. What can you do to improve on this?
CHOPRA: We need to build on our strengths and continue public/private collaboration in advancing 21st century infrastructure – digitizing our doctors and hospitals at a faster rate; our schools and electricity grid, and connecting the entire Commonwealth on next generation mobile broadband. We need to take full advantage of new approaches to commercialize research like the recently awarded i6 grant for the Virginia Innovation Partnership (http://www.commerce.gov/news/acting-secretary-speeches/2012/09/19/remarks-university-virginia-i6-announcement), and lead the country in applying crowdfunding to underserved entrepreneurs (women and minorities), markets and industries.
Virginia, already a national leader in governance, business climate, and education, is poised to serve as a model for problem solving and unlocking growth markets if we can come together – as we have in the past – to move forward.
My view: Aneesh Chopra is exactly the type of mission-focused/tech-savvy leader we need to have running for political office. He will bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the position of Lt Governor and the entire state and help Virginia and states everywhere innovate and find news ways to serve citizens.