In the end, one reason Barack Obama was elected president was his ability to connect with younger voters. But what's interesting is how he made that connection. For many who have grown up in the Information Age, the tried-and-true voter outreach strategies are no longer tried and true. For politicians, technology -- though perhaps not yet king -- has earned its place next to glad-handing and kissing babies. While John McCain appeared flabbergasted by mobile phones, Obama made a digital connection with many voters for whom technology ranks equally with food, shelter and clothing as life's necessities.

Like any good candidate, Obama's campaign featured a mix of specific policies and lofty, if vague, platitudes. His simple message of "change" resonated with a majority of Americans.

Video: Strengthening the nation's IT infrastructure was a focus for state CIOs at the NASCIO Annual Meeting in September.

For many, the president-elect embodies hope as well. Still, the grimness of reality can temper even the most idealistic visions of what Obama will accomplish -- and this is true even in the government IT community. With the floundering economy causing some pundits to declare the death of capitalism, can state and local governments really expect significant -- and positive -- change?

Broadband Roadblocks

Much of Obama's technology plan incorporates high-level goals, but seems to skimp on details for how these things will be achieved. So what should CIOs be looking forward to?

John Dankowski is one observer with firsthand experience witnessing how a president carries out (or doesn't) campaign promises. Working now as a principal with IT consulting firm Customer Value Partners, Dankowksi spent almost 25 years working in the White House, including a stint as President Bill Clinton's special assistant, overseeing IT projects and Y2K preparation. Dankowski said he thinks Obama might run into a situation where he's overpromised and may be forced to under-deliver.

One of the first roadblocks Obama may discover is a surprising lack of basic technology and connectivity.

"Looking at how tech-savvy the campaign was, there's going to be a natural expectation ... that infrastructures need to be in place, that IT should work, and I think [the Obama administration] may be in for some unexpected findings when they see there's not quite enough infrastructure, at least not quite as much as is needed," Dankowski said.

Obama has championed reforming the Universal Service Fund to expand broadband to rural areas. This move underpins almost every other technology initiative he's proposed, from more transparent government to reinvigorating student interest in math and science. But Dankowski said he isn't sure that will be immediately feasible given the economic situation.

"It's a matter of funding," he said. "Do [municipalities] have the resources themselves? I don't know if there will be federal money provided for that purpose."

Instead of working on broadband rollouts, Dankowski predicts Obama will first try to use technology to help right the nation's fiscal ship.

"I think there will be a great many new relationships and new processes formed around fixing the economy, more collaboration than ever between the financial industry and the government financial regulators," he said. "There were potentially a lot of indicators that we were headed for this [financial disaster], but the information was stovepiped in a lot of places. The aggregate could have given us some warning, but we didn't have that. I think there will be a lot of IT efforts around carefully aggregating information to give the leadership of this country a dashboard as to what all this aggregate data means. That sounds like a transformation opportunity in the IT space."

 

Recalibrating Priorities

John Skowron, a federal and state

Chad Vander Veen  |  Associate Editor
Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor