The Economics of Technology for CIOs

Financial decline shows need for CIOs' economic development.

by / February 19, 2009

With the stunning, severe economic slowdown showing no sign of reversing, all eyes have turned to the new White House administration to see what kind of large-scale stimulus will be unveiled. One ingredient that President Barack Obama wants to stir into the pot is universal broadband, which is seen increasingly as the type of infrastructure project that will do more to create jobs in the long run than the so-called "shovel-ready" projects that will repair roads and bridges. At the same time, some experts have suggested that the president's first-ever chief technology officer should advise Obama on policies that link IT with economic development.

The role of economic development doesn't crop up often, if at all, in discussions centered on public CIOs. But a small group of government IT leaders believe public CIOs have a very important economic role to play. Like Obama, they recognize that economic success depends, more than ever, on the solid underpinning of IT and that government is a key player in the economy.

In this issue's cover story, Contributing Writer David Raths talked with a handful of government CIOs who are working with economic-development leaders to use IT as a development tool. CIO Ed Hemminger of Ontario County, N.Y., recognizes the fact that every business, whether it's an auto manufacturer, bank or mom-and-pop retail store, is in some way an IT-based business. By ensuring he had a seat at the table with the county's elected officials and business leaders, Hemminger was able to help steer funds into the region for construction of a fiber-optic ring.

As Hemminger explained to me last year, New York state and its counties will never be the cheapest place for someone to start or relocate a business. But by building out the IT infrastructure to the highest standards possible, Ontario County will be one of the most IT-ready places in the country to run a company.

Unfortunately CIOs like Hemminger are the exception, not the rule, according to experts like Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Atkinson believes government CIOs must get out of government's engine room and stand on the bridge. In other words, that would mean helping their bosses, the governors, federal agency secretaries, mayors and county executives carry out economic development with IT as a key driver.

What do you think? Should CIOs be involved in economic development, or not?