By Kim Hart - 12/28/09 08:30 PM EST
It's been a cornerstone of Obama's technology platform, championed by his picks for the top tech jobs. Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski have said this phrase hundreds of times in speeches and interviews. Transparency isn't purely a technology concept--it simply means the government should make its processes and plans more accessible to the public. In most cases that comes down to releasing data. The technology is what makes that information more user-friendly--making databases searchable and records readable online. In fact, the Sunlight Foundation, the leading advocate for transparency in government, says information isn't really open to the public unless it's been posted online.
The White House has made strides in this area--releasing visitors logs, for example--and is now requiring all agencies to make data more accessible to citizens. But data is only a piece of the transparency puzzle. Citizens need some frame of reference and context to make sense of all the information.
In the same vein as transparency, this administration has made a big deal about making "data-driven" decisions. So agencies collect data. And more data. So much data that, at some point, there's too much to make sense of. The FCC has taken its data-driven philosophy seriously--perhaps to a fault. It has repeatedly asked wireless companies, broadband providers and consumer advocates, to name a few, to provide dozens of filings, reports and data sets. (It's certainly kept telecom laywers flush with work.) FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski answers most questions posed to him by defering to the "data-collection" process.
No one can say the FCC hasn't made an effort to analyze data (although some have said the data, in some cases, isn't as detailed as it needs to be). The real test of all this data collection will come in February, when the FCC has to provide recommendations to Congress for achieving universal broadband. Let's hope it results in more than a very, very thick report full of pretty graphs and charts, as Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has alluded to.
As in cloud computing. To hear Obama's tech advisors talk about it, cloud computing will reboot the government's information technology infrastructure, save millions of dollars and help agencies share information and collaborate. It was one of the first concepts CIO Vivek Kundra talked about after assuming his position. Big tech firms--Microsoft, Google, Amazon--took the cue and developed cloud computing services to sell to the government. The General Services Administration is making some applications available via Apps.gov, and the Defense Department, for example, is making use of cloud computing for some operations.
There are still privacy and security concerns. The idea of a "private cloud" has been thrown around as a way to store sensitive government data. The "public cloud," so-to-speak, still has a ways to go in the government world, but it's here to stay.
You've heard every member of Congress, every agency head and every CEO talk about it. It's supposed to save our economy, our environment, our lives.
Innovation is cited as both a reason for and consequence of things like the smart-grid, healthcare technologies, Google's expanding product line, Facebook's success, the iPhone. It's cited as a reason for patent reform, tax law changes, net neutrality regulations, and immigration reform. It's also cited as a reason against all those things.
The question of how the government can and should foster innovation in every industry will surely be a hot topic in 2010 because of the direct effect it can have on jobs.
Merriam-Webster defines innovation as "the introduction of something new." In that case, all of these buzzwords can be considered innovative. But, as with all new ideas, their effectiveness is what matters most.
I'm sure we'll hear more about these five concepts in 2010.