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Why being Obama's IT guy is a beast of a job

CIO.co.uk's Martin Veitch argues that being Barack Obama's CTO is a poisoned chalice...

It's hardly surprising that Google CEO Eric Schmidt isn't interested in becoming Barack Obama's technology tsar. The role of helping government by shedding light on the broad issue of what to do with information technology has always been a stinker of a job and there's no reason why the new American regime should change matters.

At the beginning of an earlier new dawn - the election of Tony Blair - the incoming prime minister's old friend Peter Mandelson wanted to make the UK an e-commerce hub that would modernise government, be broadband-friendly and offer an attractive destination for companies wanting the ride the online wave. Government was modernised after a fashion and thousands of services went online but there was little real order and the broader idea of a new Silicon Valley on this sceptr'd isle was frittered away.

Imagine attempting to apply order and a unified approach to infrastructure, security and procurement! Any CIO or CTO will tell you that both the strength and challenge of managing IT is that technology doesn't exist in a vacuum. It transmits, informs, infuses and absorbs everything around it. That means blurred reporting lines and requires that managers are people comfortable with change, fluidity and speed. It is a hard enough job in the private sector but when applied to the slow-turning cogs and endless red tape of government it becomes a beast of a job.

Obama might have a golden glow at the moment but by next summer, as golden glows go, it will have gone. At that point, the real work will begin and one of the most difficult, if largely unfeted, jobs will be working out what works in technology for the US.

Martin Veitch blogs for PC Advisor's sister title CIO.co.uk.

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