State of the Union Suggests Obama Becoming Tech President Again

Rob Enderle

As I watched the U.S. State of the Union speech this week, I was impressed with regard to how many portions of the talk dealt with improving the technology market and reaffirming it as one of the big revenue generators for the country.  No other industry seemed to get as much positive focus (energy was mixed, with as much emphasis on correcting bad practices as improving production).  Granted, overall, given the need for Congress to execute, this often seemed like pushing  someone who has trouble picking up a ball to suddenly start juggling running chainsaws, but I think the message was overall positive and correct with respect to the importance of technology to the U.S. economy.    

It was also interesting to see that Apple has clearly replaced Google as the administration’s favorite U.S. company. That suggests that Apple may get some help and Google may be in the dog house (this may explain why Google’s world-hopping Chairman decided to sell nearly half his Google stock).

Let’s cover some of the interesting parts as they relate to IT.

Education

There was an interesting directive on education with a reference to Germany. Apparently, Germany builds vocational programs into its high school class requirements. When you graduate from high school in Germany, you have the equivalent of an Associate’s degree in a marketable skill, often technical. If this measure gains traction, it would create a pool of relatively inexpensive technical labor, which might be geographically more attractive than the overseas resources that many IT and tech shops are currently using in order to bid aggressively. It would also mean our kids would be less likely to live at home for years as they decide which career they want and thrash through various expensive university programs in their discovery process.

Infrastructure

U.S. infrastructure is in pretty bad shape and the administration announced a program that would fund fixing the critical aspects of transportation, energy distribution and Internet performance. This should allow more flexibility with regard to where plants are placed and allow domestic locations to better compete with aggressive overseas locations. It should also reduce both the number and severity of critical outages that have and will continue to plague cloud services, as the services that feed them are made robust enough to handle the worsening weather in the U.S.

R&D

This is one of the few times I’ve heard a sitting President talk about R&D and the need to continue to lead in order to hold off being eclipsed by another nation. This administration clearly sees the risk of falling behind China and is pushing resources to offset what has been an unfortunate trend where technologies that were initially developed here, like solar energy, now are dominated by Chinese manufacturers. R&D is strategic thinking and the result, if the program to drive additional R&D spending is successful, should result in a stronger U.S. and tech market.


Security/Privacy

After nearly a decade of screaming that successive administrations weren’t taking the threat of security against a hostile force or state seriously, and watching complaints on privacy fall on almost deaf ears, there appears to be a change in the works. Granted, this likely happened back when the Department of Defense called out the possibility of a cyber 9/11, and it likely speaks partially to why Apple and not Google was featured in the talk, but this is a huge step toward mitigating a massive problem that may not be avoidable. While I remain concerned that the approach the DOD suggested, linking major enterprise systems together to better report attacks and handle coordinated responses, is too unsafe (right now one of the biggest protections is that viruses don’t spread easily or quickly across most of these systems precisely because they aren’t linked together and communicating), I am impressed with how seriously the administration is taking the combined threats. This may be one of the reasons Google is in the dog house and Apple has become Obama’s favorite. 

Wrapping Up: Promises Are Good, Execution Better

What was also interesting was how willing the President was to explore the idea of using an executive order if Congress didn’t act. However, Congress remains the funding body and it has clearly been dysfunctional of late. While the promise of the State of the Union was particularly powerful for the tech market, without funding, it just becomes another empty promise from yet another politician. But, if the suggested changes are made, then the U.S. would strengthen its hold on the tech market and the country’s path to full economic recovery would be more assured. Setting aside party differences to allow it to happen, well, that may be the bridge too far.



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