The case for a technology czar

There is not one facet of U.S. government, business or the personal lives of each and every citizen that is not touched by technology. National defense, tax collection, Social Security and Medicare, and even the immigration and electoral systems all rely on the computing platforms, software and communication networks and services.

Business executives are well aware of their companies’ reliance on technology to conduct business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions (remember the Y2K scare?). Few of us would be willing to give up our home computers, PDAs, telephones, Internet access, cell phones, cable or satellite TVs and all the other electronic gadgets that have become invaluable to meeting our personal and business commitments.

Despite the obvious critical nature of technology in our lives and its contribution of more than 15 per cent to the gross domestic product (a conservative estimate), the government’s knowledge of, and interaction with, this important sector of the economy has been piecemeal at best. The executive branch needs at least one point where technology issues can be viewed as a whole. That point should be a government technology czar.

Much like the recently created director of homeland security position, the technology czar would serve as an interdepartmental knowledge transfer point within the government, adviser to the executive branch on technology issues and spokesperson for the government on technology topics. Additionally, the czar would function as an industry advocate, ensuring that U.S. technology maintains its leadership position in the global economy.

In the current government/business environment, the technology czar could address such cross-disciplinary issues as the economic benefits, technological innovations, tax implications, financial and physical security, and individual privacy questions surrounding the burgeoning e-commerce sector. Or the czar could look at how wireless and location-based technologies could be used not only to provide interesting new business and consumer services but also to enhance the capabilities of government agencies to respond to emergencies more rapidly.

Lastly, the czar could ensure that the United States maintains its leadership in technology innovation by ensuring that regulation does not impede nor add intolerable cost to leading-edge products or services. If this doesn’t appear to be a problem right now, IDC predicts that U.S companies, currently spending $5.5 billion on offshore outsourcing, will spend US$17.6 billion offshore by 2005. How many jobs and what percentage of venture capital dollars will follow?

The appointment of a technology czar would focus the efforts of individual governmental departments and the industry on problem resolutions that do not fix one issue (online privacy) while creating others (collection of tax revenue). More importantly, the high-tech czar would signal our government’s commitment to the high-tech industry and its continuing leadership in innovation and economic growth.

Mielke is managing partner of Treillage Network Strategies, a consultancy in McKinney, Tex. She can be reached at [email protected].

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