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'Change' & the Tech Industry

With the inauguration of Barack Obama, it is worth considering how change might play out in some technology communities and industries

Throughout the past year, the concept of "change" served as a profound metaphor, encapsulating trends in politics, the economy, and other facets of daily life. In a sense, the inauguration of Barack Obama will institutionalize change, at least as the new president sees it. But at a time when uncertainty -- related to the economy, politics, and culture -- is inciting fear and retrenchments across the globe, it is worth considering how change might play out in specific communities and industries. To that end, here are a few issues and areas related to technology where we expect some notable post-inauguration events:

Stimulus project opportunities -- This is likely inspiring post-holiday dreams of sugarplums in a host of IT executive bedrooms and boardrooms, and with good reason. Obama's $800+ billion stimulus package includes some $6 billion for improving broadband infrastructure. Though much of that will be dedicated to underserved rural communities, it still represents a nice chunk of change for wireless providers.

Much is also being said about the need to plan and build a next-generation health care records and IT infrastructure. No arguments here, but given the immense complexities of such an effort, we are not sanguine about its chances. Security is another area that could and should profit from the stimulus package. While security was the watch word of the previous administration, responsibility for many projects (such as improving port security) was foisted onto states and municipalities without commensurate funding. Recent innovations, including digital surveillance video capture and analysis, and ever-evolving RFID technology are likely to play big roles in these very necessary efforts.

Heightened accountability -- With every bit of good news comes a bit of bad. Yes, the economic stimulus package will likely mean more work/revenues for IT vendors. But those projects are also likely to come with some very stout strings attached related to progress/performance.

This is not a bad thing. Consider the reported waste of billions of taxpayer dollars on no-bid contracts for Iraq reconstruction projects (which will likely be the subject of lively Congressional hearings in the coming months). Consider also the failure of numerous post-9/11 government IT projects, including the FBI's "Virtual Case File" program, the Department of Homeland Securitys "Railhead" and "Emerg2" efforts, and the Census Bureau's catastrophic attempt to adopt handheld computing devices. While it is understandable that highly complex technological projects will run into problems, we would caution against assumptions that future missed deadlines, cost overruns, and outright disasters will be given a nod and a wink, and bureaucratically swept under some handy rug. Those who plan to ignore this advice should begin practicing their congressional testimony and perp walking skills.

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