The Technology Implications of the Obama Win

There are several megatrends sweeping the technology industry today.  Some of them are about to be accelerated.

I like to use five key topic areas to track megatrends in IT:

- Convergence and trend towards unified communications and user empowerment
- Globalization and increasing internationalization of IT and demographic shifts
- Increasing open development of software and hardware
- Power, Cooling and Space (PCS) impacting data centers and every place computing is done
- Increasing pace of technology development and probability of disruption

Over the past two months two major events have occurred which are impacting these trends.

The first was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the resulting cascading effects on the financial industry.  The impact on IT spending and the movement of more enterprises to grid/cloud computing because of that are still being assessed, but for some thoughts see: Wall Street Crisis

The second was the Presidential election of Barack Obama.  President-Elect Obama has long articulated a technology strategy on his website.  It is most definitely worth a read by all enterprise technologists since it will form the basis of many of his policies and actions.  For some context, here is a paragraph that struck a cord with many enterprise technologists:

Bring Government into the 21st Century: Barack Obama
and Joe Biden will use technology to reform government and improve the
exchange of information between the federal government and citizens
while ensuring the security of our networks. Obama and Biden believe in
the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability
and willingness to give and to give back to make government work
better. Obama will appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer
(CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right
infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO
will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency
effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of
each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class
technologies and share best practices.

But perhaps more important than his stated technology platform is the energy behind the election and the new spirit that will be coming with him into government.   Part of that energy was discussed by Tim O'Reilly in a 29 Oct 2008 Endorsement.  A key slice of that endorsement read:

I also believe that in an Obama administration, there will be
significant investment in applying the lessons learned from internet
campaigning into the tools of internet governance. There are efforts
already underway to build better tools for two-way communication, for
government transparency, and for harnessing innovations from outside
the public sector to improve the work of the public sector.

Based on the above and my views of enterprise technology today, the following is my analysis of the impact of the election on the key IT megatrends:

Convergence and trend towards unified communications and user empowerment

Consumerization and user empowerment has been the most important trend in IT for several years and is driving many other trends in the industry, including Cloud Computing.  This trend is almost a force unto itself and I don't believe the Obama election or the excitement it generated will do anything to change this trend.   In fact, we could argue that this trend itself picked the next president.  The Obama team made the best use of the consumer technologies touching people everywhere, including social media, cell phones and of course the Internet.  So his team had people who understood the megatrend and took action to accelerate it into their campaign.   What if the critically beneficial trend of consumerization of IT had not been in place?  If consumerization had not been driving IT would this election have resulted this way?  Hard to tell, but to the point of my analysis, this trend is a force of nature of its own and I do not believe the exciting results of the election will change it other than to help move more social media into old government organizations.

But, we can assume that the senior team of the President Elect, the ones who will be leading the transition of the government, know the power of social media and consumer IT very well and will accelerate the use of Web2.0/Gov2.0/Social Media in government.

Globalization and increasing internationalization of IT and demographic shifts

There is a global competition for talent and for several years it has seemed like the US was on the loosing side of this trend.  There is a significant chance that this trend will continue, with Asia especially generating demand for technology talent.  But the energy of the US and the huge respect the country is gaining because of this election may be a mitigating factor in the competition for talent.

Increasing open development of software and hardware

This too is a trend all its own.  Open source software is clearly a force which is unstoppable already.  Here too, the Obama campaign appears to have leveraged open source sofware by extensive use of free and open software like MySQL.  (Sun Microsystem's MySQL is the open source technology platform that powered

Power, Cooling and Space (PCS) impacting data centers and every place computing is done

Although this is another trend that is bigger than any one campaign, we have to assume that the energy savings, power savings and space savings of modernizing IT will be benefits that are highly regarded by the new administration and at least for the federal IT enterprise these trends will continue.

Increasing pace of technology development and probability of disruption.

I firmly believe that the speed of technology development will continue to accelerate.   At this time I don't see the election as having a big impact on this trend on the short term.   It is clear that the new administration will be working hard to capture the energy and excitement of the populace to move the country forward on several issues, and in doing so that will hopefully improve the environment for startups and other technology generators.  But the bottom line here is that positive change and disruption of enterprise IT is going to be a fact of life and would be no matter who was elected.

The Significance of the Above

Now what is the meaning of these changes?  Here is a short list of assessments:

  • Look for even more use of grid/cloud computing.  This will include more cloud computing in government.  Vivek Kundra is the model here.   His pioneering efforts in leveraging cloud computing have generated real benefits many of us knew were possible but few of had the courage to implement.

  • Look for an enhancement to the current CNCI (Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative).   IT will be secured in government.  With a strong federal CTO we can expect some changes to the current approach to the CNCI. Most, if not all, unauthorized intrusions into federal systems could be prevented with a strong CTO in place.

  • Expect to see much much more use of open source software and hardware in the federal enterprise, which will continue to drive more adoption by open source software in commercial sectors.   Expect to see a more widespread adoption of Open Office, Linux, Solaris, ZFS,  and MySQL.   This will be done for agility, flexibility, security and expense.

  • Expect to see large pushes for automation of backend IT processes.

  • Although federal IT budgets will be under significant downward pressure, good ideas regarding virtualization, automation and other high payoff disruptive technologies will be welcome and there will still be IT modernization efforts underway throughout the government.

Do you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts?  Please let me know.

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About Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is a co-founder and Partner at Cognitio, the publisher of and . Bob's background is as an all source intelligence analyst and an enterprise CTO. Find him on Twitter at @BobGourley