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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Bob Gourley

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

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


  1. Not sure I'd be as optimistic on this point: "Most, if not all, unauthorized intrusions into federal systems could be prevented with a strong CTO in place."
    We'll sit down in 4 years and do a retrospective analysis on that score.

  2. IMHO…there are a lot of factors to look at and consider and of course in this town (DC that is) everyone has an angle.
    1. I think his policy and being so instrumental in 'google for government' is a strong indication of the direction this administration will head. For companies that embrace UNIX based platforms I think this is a great opportunity. I also believe that the emerging business leaders / entrepreneurs of the world will have a shot at designing a lot of plug-ins and other apps that leverage the architecture.
    2. I think another dynamic that has entered into play now is that young leaders and voters are both inspired and empowered. Over the next 2-4 years young leaders will run for political positions that they never would have considered before and because they are comfortable leveraging technology…they will quickly out run and out maneuver the old guards of the political system.
    This dynamic opens the doors for those who embrace the youth and young leaders and dare I say it “CHANGE”.
    3. Too many people are unaware that the current administration has poured a lot of money into energy initiatives so I will be interested to see if those dollars are reallocated to different initiatives or more money goes that direction. So P,C, and S ideas like what Cisco is proposing may do very well.
    4. I think that the CNCI will make for an interesting dynamic and increased funding to support the IC’s Cyber Command.

  3. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    For Lewis: That's a good point and I might be a bit optimistic on that point, the bad guys will always try to find a way, but this is not a time for you or anyone else to aim low. The goal should be zero unauthorized accesses to the federal enterprise. And a strong CTO who really knows her or his stuff can tackle that and should have the task, in my opinion.

  4. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    For David: Thanks much. Please keep the ideas coming. I'll keep noodling on them and I hope others do as well. I especially like your change comment. The fact is that our cheese is about to be moved. Or maybe we should be the guys moving it?

  5. Tim Stewart says:

    I'm teaching a graduate course in security this term (CIS 523 – Security in Distributed Systems). One of the papers I make the students author is an opinion/argument piece reacting the statement, "A Computer Network is NEVER secure."
    I wish I had your optimism and faith in the bureaucratic condition, but the "perimeter skirmishes" would be harder to overcome than the security issues, which are largely reactive in nature due to how this game is played.
    As always, I deeply enjoy reading your work.

  6. Tim Stewart says:

    Here is a quite timely article pertinent to the security commentary.

  7. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    Tim, thanks for the comments. I think we can make dramatic, order of magnitude (maybe even two order of magnitude) improvements in the state of IT security, if we have a strong federal CTO who can articulate and move out on this vision.

  8. Aside from the security aspect that's been commented on, I think there's a cost savings to be found. Numerous government agencies spend lots of money reinventing the wheel because there's no single organization that's keeping track of all the different projects. Within the DoD alone, there are several organizations that are trying to save money by thinking as "an enterprise." Imagine the economies of scale if the whole federal government the (only) enterprise.

  9. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    Teri I have to agree and wish I would have commented on that. This could be a very virtuous approach because of the enhanced security, functionality and capability. Then you add in the fact that it could generate huge economies of scale and it just makes more sense.

  10. Joseph Mazzafro says:

    A couple of weeks ago one of then "candidate" Obama's intel advisers asked me what I thought the most important issue/trend was or would be in intelligence for a new administration. I sai without hesitation "convergence" but I did not mean IT convergence I meant the convergence of foreign and domestic intelligence, which our Intel Community is not well organized to deal with (i.e. the Wall Debate from the 9/11 Commission Hearings). Of course, this the convergence of foreign and domestic intelligence is possibility because it can be enabled by IT convergence

  11. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    Thanks much– as always I appreciate your comments and context. And I agree strongly with your observation of the convergence of foreign and domestic being enabled because of IT.

  12. Steven Mandzik says:

    Bob – great post and Im glad u called them megatrends. Im working the inside on this one and Im seeing the changes but only when i take the 30,000 foot view.
    I really believe that strong leadership and modern views on our reality will make the biggest difference. I hope that either Obama can bring these elements to bear. Or, that economic troubles will force us to move forward.
    I recently wrote that one of your megatrends UC is completely passing the intelligence community by.
    It seems like mobile devices will too. We'll go right into the next one, cloud computing to see if we can get that one down.
    Also, to Joe's point, I recently heard a former head of MI-5 talk and she mentioned the same exact thing. As our world vision becomes more linked and silo's are broken down, our allies will become all the more useful. Though, the real truth is they are already extremely useful as a lot of the latest worldwide successes to threats have shown.

  13. CTO Bob Gourley says:

    Steven, Thanks much for the comment and the pointer to your post, which I enjoyed reading.
    I'll see you on Twitter.

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