On Dec. 12, 2013, Karen Jackson was appointed as Virginia's secretary of technology, stepping up from her role as deputy secretary of technology to replace Jim Duffey. And after a month on the job, Jackson is looking forward and making big plans.
Having experience in government and knowledge of the legislature, Jackson says, provides her with a big head start over any private-sector candidate that might have been appointed. She’s clear on what her goals are and what the future for the state’s IT projects look like: She will continue the efforts of past governors, she says, as well as begin new projects under current Gov. Bob McDonnell, including those around cybersecurity, modeling and simulation, broadband, big data and drones.
Cybersecurity in particular is a big focus area for her, and one that's growing for everyone. “If anyone takes for granted the fact that the threats are getting more and more heinous and frequent, if people don’t see that coming at them, they could be in a world of hurt very quickly,” she said.
Cybersecurity is key not only for the obvious protection purposes, but also for the state’s economic development, she added.
Jackson said she wants to look into new avenues for modeling and simulation, technology that is now predominantly used by the state’s military segment, but that will be expanded to other segments. The state wants to “figure out ways its current technology capability can be transitioned over into other markets, and really look at how to do partnerships or R&D in modeling and simulation,” Jackson said.
Modeling and simulation can be applied to their cybersecurity efforts, too, she said, suggesting that they could “model a hack and be able to prevent it rather than just being reactive." The technology could also be used in other fields to pursue new ideas, too, she said, including health care and transportation. “There’s a lot of opportunity for future growth out there,” Jackson said.
Increased broadband efforts are also important for the state, she said. “We have all worked on this for a really long time, but we’re now getting to the point where the mobile environment is becoming more and more pervasive," she said. "People are using more, people are demanding more."
Jackson also pointed out that the populace is getting older and that there are increased opportunities around digital health care, veterans affairs and digital education that will benefit citizens -- and possibly save the government money. Pushing health care to a more home-based setting will be one of the big benefits that better broadband can bring to the state, Jackson said, adding that a big part of that progress will be identifying what their strengths and weaknesses are so they can make a solid plan forward.
And when it comes to big data in the state, Jackson said that while it's great for finding new solutions, patterns and problems, it will also be one of the technologies the commonwealth hopes to use for economic development opportunities.
“We really have done a lot over the last few years in making sure that we have the right cash credits, the right business environment, the right policy environment, to encourage technology companies to locate here, to grow here, to work with our universities to try to make sure that commercialization of technology happens," she said, adding that if it's at all possible, it will happen with a Virginia-based company. "So we’re going to be looking at working very heavily with our economic development partnership to see what we can do about not only attracting companies to the commonwealth, but growing technology businesses that are already here."
In a similar vein, the Federal Aviation Administration in December named Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) as one of six sites to be used for drone research. “We’re very, very happy about that,” Jackson said. Virginia Tech will test drone “failure mode” and identify operational and technical risks, along with partners in New Jersey. Drones are an important part of the future, Jackson said, and everyone stands to gain a lot or lose a lot depending on whether the preparation is undertaken correctly.
Jackson says the promotion means a lot to her, especially since she’s the first woman to take the position in the state -- and because there’s so much going on in technology right now. “To be selected to lead that effort during that period of time -- it’s very humbling and it’s a great honor," she said, "and I’m very, very excited about what the next four years will hold.”