Recently I’ve found myself really quite fascinated by the evolving definition of the CTO role in the US public sector. My interest was kicked off by some further reading about the Lean Startup stuff and in particular this post about Open Innovation in DC. That led to me following a tweet from @dominiccampbell [who as an aside I really should try and meet someday - I've been following him on Twitter pretty much since day one!] about an eGov ‘Startup Weekend’ in DC that amongst all the hacking has a talk from Todd Park, the current Whitehouse CTO and his predecessor [and first ever CTO at that level] Aneesh Chopra amongst the judges.
I read a couple of pieces from O’Reilly about Todd Park and his rise to his current role – given my employer I was particularly interested in the work he did at HHS prior to the Whitehouse especially at Healthcare.gov. It seems that these CTO positions are being crafted to be the very definition of the ‘intrapreneur’ idea that Eric Reiss talks about in the Lean Startup stuff. They are being empowered to implement technology in a way that improves services but also creates new opportunities [whether that be economic or civic good]. They seem quite different from the ‘traditional’ CTO role at technology companies and are clearly different from the CIO positions they so often get confused with [a simple definition seems to be CIOs deal with the internal systems and processes and CTOs handle the external technological 'interfaces' - though that sounds a bit wanky!]
Carl Haggerty also blogged about an interview at SXSW with John Tolva, the CTO for the City of Chicago. Again he has a wider role about finding new ways of using technology not only to serve their citizens but also to spark economic interest and support businesses. It is a very interesting interview and well worth checking out.
I do wonder what a suitably senior, empowered CTO with this sort of remit could do at, hypothetically, a group of organisations who fund considerably large aamounts of research, collect untold amounts of data, have a responsibility both to educate and demonstrate economic benefits but to date have noone with a particularly ‘digital resident‘ mindset at a senior level – let alone someone looking to embrace ‘startup’ thinking.
There is certainly change on the horizon – a certain high profile project would seem to ensure that – but whether I’ll ever see this kind of role get the kind of profile it has in the US in SN2 is another matter!