Gartner Blog Network

Who Do You Want for Obama’s Chief Technology Officer?

by French Caldwell  |  November 10, 2008  |  3 Comments

It really boils down to whether the CTO is going to be a super-CIO, or part of the economic team.

Huh? (By the way, you can skip my commentary and Click Here to Vote for CTO).

Yes — I said part of the economic team.  Can you really see taking a big name CEO like Eric Schmidt and telling him that his job is to try to put some cohesion and common architecture around the IT investments of the federal agencies.  That ain’t gonna happen — no way, no how.  He wouldn’t take it, and if he did, he wouldn’t last.

However, a Schmidt CTO role in re-invigorating the role of technology (not just IT) as the engine of American economic prowess and success is one that would fit him, or other top-drawer candidates for CTO, well.  It’s an outward facing role, and if given some control over R&D budgets at critical idea factories like DARPA and NASA, it could be a functional role.

By the way — absent any kind of budgetary control — no matter what the role entails, super-CIO or economic-CTO, anyone in it will be ignored by the agencies.

Jason Hiner has proposed the top ten candidates for CTO on a ZD-net blog — I’ve added two more — who would you vote for?
Click Here to Vote

I’ll share the results on Friday.


French Caldwell
VP and Gartner Fellow
15 years at Gartner
19 years IT industry

French Caldwell is a vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research, where he leads governance, risk and compliance research. Mr. Caldwell also writes and presents on knowledge management. His research includes analysis of the impact… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Who Do You Want for Obama’s Chief Technology Officer?

  1. Lydia Leong says:

    I’d suggest two people you haven’t listed: Doug Merrill (formerly CIO of Google, now at EMI), and Maynard Webb (formerly COO of eBay and CIO at Gateway, now CEO of LiveOps). Both would be “operational CTOs”, the kind of guys you would expect would have both vision and the practical ability to modernize technology in government. (I suppose they would more properly fit a top CIO job rather than a top CTO job.)

  2. I am looking forward to the results of the poll, but shouldn’t we ask ourselves (and the incoming administration) what would a whole-of-government CTO be for?

    We have been doing research for a few years now on the role and effectiveness of whole-of-government CIOs, and – as you said above – unless there is concrete budgetary power, it does not make a real difference. Would a CTO be different? Should he or she report to the CIO? How would the CIO role look like as a consequence of having a CTO?

    There is another risk, and it is that the CTO sees his or her role to go beyond the effective use of technology by federal government, and develops an interest for things like infrastructural investments in technology, such as rural broadband, computers for public schools, grid computing to support small to medium sized businesses, let alone pushing for nationwide intiiatives affecting how state and local authorities use technology.
    I am not saying that this would be his or her brief, but in an administration that is pursuing change and whose leader understand the potential of technology, the risk above is a clear and present danger.

    Why a danger? Of course any of the top-notch candidates in your list would be able to advise on the use of technology both inside federal government, across different government tiers and in the country as a whole. However for him or her to be successful focus is essential. Sorting out how to consolidate, leverage and advance technology in federal government is already enough big a challenge.

    My bottom line is that the survey should be on the CTO job description rather than on candidates who may fill the position.

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.