The Obama Administration
Barack Hussein Obama taking the oath of office is a historic moment in myriad ways. As the first African-American to become president of the United States, his inauguration is a mighty symbol of American flexibility and optimism as we face unprecedented economic and political challenges at home and abroad.
But Obama's ascension to the nation's highest office is much more than symbolic. His administration will be very different from the Bush regime it replaces and likely from the Clinton era as well. Those differences will be very real and will have an enormous effect on businesses small and large.
His selection of a national chief technology officer will bring new focus to technology as an enabler of success. Not surprisingly, at bMighty, we think that's a good thing. Similarly, Obama's choices of Julius Genachowski to head the FCC and Janet Napolitano as chief of Homeland Security will affect how businesses use and secure technology and information. Karen Mills at the SBA may also have an impact on your business.
The inauguration of a new president isn't just inspiring spectacle. It's also the start of real, substantive change that will have a big impact on your business -- and given our financial pickle and the rising role of technology, perhaps even more so this time around.
New SBA Leadership
Karen Mills' appointment to head the SBA is intriguing. Obama's swift choice indicates he's serious about working with "Main Street," but can a venture capitalist run the SBA?
Mills was a founding partner/managing director of Solera Capital, a New York-based venture capital firm. She's also a Harvard Business School graduate, president of private equity investment firm MMP Group, and, significantly, not a career politician. As marketing consultant Scott Testa says, "Venture capitalists by nature are risk takers, and it is an extremely competitive business. This administration may need to take some risks to help this very important component of the economy."
Though Mills' experience is more ambitious entrepreneur than stereotypical mom-and-pop shop, that may be just what the SBA needs to inject new ideas and resources -- and, in turn, boost the ailing economy.
Technologist In Chief
That Obama will have a CTO represents a huge step forward for government and technology. It sends the signal that technology is a priority for this administration. That Google CEO Eric Schmidt, rumored as a leading candidate, publically declared he didn't want the job indicates the limited authority of the role in practice. But policy and budget limitations don't diminish the importance of having a formal role for setting our national technology vision.
Even a tech-savvy White House can't compete with the technological innovation and flair of Silicon Valley, but Obama already has demonstrated a better grasp of how to harness IT than we've come to expect from government. From his dogged fight to keep his BlackBerry to his campaign's use of text messaging and YouTube to his transition team's use of Salesforce CRM Ideas to power a "citizen's briefing book" for gathering ideas, Obama and his organization seek technology to boost productivity, extend reach, enhance transparency, and foster collaboration -- a perspective long overdue inside the beltway.
Whether the West Wing will adopt cloud computing remains to be seen, but some of the tech-centric initiatives you may see include R&D tax credits, more H-1B visas, expanded broadband access, support for net neutrality, more open source software, emphasis on green technologies and alternative energy, and patent reform.
Worldwide Financial Crisis
The latter part of Obama's campaign was about the economy -- everything else took a backseat. Since his election, he's taken a more active role than previous presidents-elect because of the fragility of not only the U.S. economy, but the global economy. Make no mistake, the financial crisis is the issue for the incoming administration; how Obama handles this issue will define his presidency.
But despite all the talk of rescue packages for everyone from automakers to pornmakers, don't expect a bailout for the more than 25 million U.S. small businesses. That doesn't mean that the new administration doesn't have plans to boost small business. Front and center is an expansion of the SBA loan program. There are also tax credits, a national incubator program, small-business health care tax credit, and a number of WPA-style programs that may offer opportunities for small businesses.
But no one stimulus program is going to fix the economy. There are too many holes in the metaphorical dike to plug one at a time: from markets to mortgages to toxic assets to trade deficits to tight credit. The acclaim for Obama's economic team has been widespread and the emphasis on economy first sends a message of calm and confidence that -- let's all hope -- translates to the change and hope we've been hearing about.
Privacy & Security
Since President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act on Oct. 26, 2001, it has generated controversy -- notably about government access to personal information. Originally, the act was intended to expire in 2003, but the bill has been reauthorized several times. So what will Obama do with the Patriot Act? He's voted for reauthorization bills, but only with changes to prevent abuse of authority. Yet he supports a Patriot Act that strengthens civil liberties. Can Obama have it both ways?
Obama has pushed for increased FTC funding specifically to fight cybercrime. He's also vowed to create a transparent and connected democracy.
Janet Napolitano's appointment to lead Homeland Security could be groundbreaking. As governor of Arizona, she made controversial decisions on illegal immigration. As a Democrat in a heavily Republican state, she earned a reputation for practicality and her ability to work with both parties.
That Obama is the first "wired" president spawned the term Obama 2.0. Considering how Obama spread info during his campaign, his administration is likely to set new precedents for electronic information.
The Presidential BlackBerry
As this slideshow makes clear, the Obama administration is positioned to have a dramatic impact on American business and technology.
Most of that is through actual policy decisions. But some of it, like the new president's devotion to his BlackBerry, are mostly symbolic. But don't think that doesn't matter. The importance of the presidential bully pulpit has long been recognized, and Obama's embrace of technology -- from green tech to mobile e-mail and beyond -- is already making a big difference.
The New York Times estimates that Obama's BlackBerry addiction is worth $50 million to Research In Motion, partly because the company is not paying for the endorsement. Of course, Obama may still have to surrender the BlackBerry to security concerns, and it's unlikely that your company will get such a boost.
But make no mistake, the new commander in chief is all about technology. And you can bet that emphasis will trickle down and affect the business world in all sorts of ways -- including as a vital tool to help you beat the recession.