Thomas L. Friedman: One of Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers

He wrote one of the most talked-about books in government and the IT community as a whole

by / March 8, 2006
This is an excerpt from the 2006 "Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers" an annual tribute to those individuals who are redefining and advancing technology's role in government and society.

Although New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman has written many columns and articles on various topics, it's a safe bet he's never taken a stab at investigating the impact of IT on the public sector. Yet he easily made our Top 25 ranking for 2005. The reason is simple -- he wrote one of the most talked-about books in government and the IT community as a whole.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, is a well written examination of today's great economic trend: the outsourcing of U.S. service and IT jobs to China and India, in particular. Thanks to a convergence of forces -- including the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Soviet-style economies, and the rise of the Internet and cheap telecommunications -- the world has entered a new age of globalization, he argues, with "new players on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits of horizontal collaboration."

While the mainstream press raised questions about some of Friedman's assessments, those in the IT community and government nodded in agreement with his findings. CIOs and IT professionals understood the convergence Friedman writes about and the impact technology is having on the economy and society.

"I call certain new technologies the steroids because they are amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners," Friedman wrote. "They are taking all the forms of collaboration -- outsourcing, off-shoring, open-sourcing, supply-chaining, insourcing and informing -- and making it possible to do each and every one of them in a way that is digital, mobile, personal and virtual."

Former West Virginia CIO Keith Comstock called Friedman's book, "a disturbingly accurate assessment of what our world has become." In particular, he highlights Friedman's point that a flat world helps not just global IT companies, but also global terror organizations.

But the ideas in Friedman's book that resonate loudly in government circles are those dealing with a flat world's impact on our education system, the economy, and to a certain extent, on IT within government. When government IT professionals read that their work is being outsourced for far less pay, they can't help but ponder the changes taking place.

When politicians try to pass laws forbidding the public sector from doing business with firms that have off-shore operations, CIOs and their colleagues are left confused about protecting American jobs at the expense of access to high-quality, low-cost services and software that could cut public-sector IT costs while improving operations.

It's hard to ignore these quandaries. Friedman has done us all a service by writing so effectively about these sobering yet potentially exciting changes.