Obama’s frustration with IT at the White House; a reflection of top Businesses?

An interesting point has been brought out yesterday by the Washington Post, regarding the new Presidential staff been frustrated by the lack of updating in the White House IT.

White House

Furthermore, as Obama’s campaign was based in great proportion in Web 2.0 and as (a “standard” 21st century professional) he is a tech savvy guy, being constantly in-touch and on-line; great expectations were made about the equipment (software and hardware) and gadgets available at the White House to start a new people-connected government.

Nothing farther from reality. Stories have started to emerge, about 90s decade hardware, old software and highly ultra-restricted email.

Three outstanding cases:

  1. President Obama’s precious Blackberry almost been banned. Now a $3k USD ultra-encrypted smartphone will be arranged. First for a President of the USA
  2. Most of Obama’s inner circle used to explode Web 2.0 and work in portable Macs, finding out that –old- laptop PCs only used to be assigned to top White House executives. Old desktops belonged to rest of the staff.
  3. A White House insider saying that “it was like going from Xbox back to Atari.

As the President of the US arrives and installs himself at what was described by the Washington Post as the Technological Dark Ages, there are some questions to be answered:

Why was the office of the most powerful man in the world so technologically un-updated?

Which will be the biggest challenges for the new team to obtain the kind and level of equipment they need for their job?


When IT works for someone else.

What Obama’s team is suffering at the White House is not privative of “dinosaur” politicians or a former President that once referred to the “internets”. It’s a phenomenon that we live in the day-to-day business: Companies, Enterprises and World Class Corporations living (if lucky) at the minimum of the technology needed for their operation.

Greg Poulos, An American director of a Special Events Production company, and very tech-dependant says:  “IT seems to forget, their job is to support staff and allow the staff to get the job done”.

I will go farther. According to “Digital Business” of the Financial Times, we are in the very beginnings of seriously consider the IT departments.

computerizedIt’s a cultural entity that is deeply signed within CEOs and Boards’ DNA and which in many cases is related to the age (older-than-50) and tech background of those people. Thus, if the Top Management is not convinced or committed with an IT agenda, not much would be expected.

There’s as good marker inside the organization: Where or whom does IT report?

Companies that hold a seat on the Executive Committee for an IT Vice-president are no majority; normally IT reports to Finance. When IT reports to Finance, the trend for their actions is to be finance-oriented.

Steve Oldfield, COO for sanofi-aventis UK personally mentioned: “When IT is represented in the Executive Committee it’s a signal of tech commitment”.


It’s about the security, but… what are we afraid of?

It is quiet understandable that in a era of cybernetic attacks, terrorism and protection-driven agendas, security must be a #1 concern.

However, are we afraid of real measured cyber-threats or is just from something that we simply ignore?

Personally I’ve witnessed companies still running on IT absurd policies just for ignorance. Some examples would be:

  • No IT policies at all. Somehow, a “systems” department is a luxury reserved for “big companies”
  • Internet access restricted to a “need to use” basis, not just for been “dangerous” but also for been a potential distraction” to employees
  • OS and software not being updated until “further research and central approval is granted”… after two years
  • Restricted email capabilities where it’s impossible to download a JPG or a movie… which is actually what I need to send them as customers of mine!

It is nor rare that in some cases, there are people within the organization that is very tech savvy and they start demanding things (and services) to an inexperienced and rather uninformed IT clerk.

Does some of this sound like the White House situation?


It is very clear that in the first decade of the 21st century, telecommunications and Internet are key to interconnected businesses and deliver potential benefits to the end-users.

There are lots of avant-garde companies with state-of-the-art technology and policies.

There are also companies with top Executive Vice-Presidents of IT on their Management (although the Financial Times says that still, there’s no CEO that has emerged from the IT area).

However, It’s also clear that there will have to pass some time until we can live in our dreamed telecommunications and Internet Shangri-La.

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One Response to Obama’s frustration with IT at the White House; a reflection of top Businesses?

  1. Rey Barcelo says:

    In my opinion, there are at least a few loosely related dynamics at play here.

    First, Obama’s team of techie road warriors apparently underestimated the formidable inertia of the federal government bureaucracy. Understandably, they are eager to save the world and start sending and receiving information at 21st-century speeds using text messages, e-mail, and social networking sites. Before doing so, however, they must dutifully fill out a seemingly unending array of employment forms, dealing with everything from tax issues to health benefits. In the case of the White House, security and other unique concerns make the process even more cumbersome. Saving the world must wait until all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed. I recall that the same was true when I began working as a law clerk for a federal appeals court in Washington in 2000 (in a building next to the White House), and the same must apply with equal or stronger force to the O-team. No amount of frustration or anger can overcome the inertia, and the process must follow its natural course.

    More fundamentally, too many enterprises, whether private or public, seem to follow a “one size fits all” and “only when it’s upgrade time” mentality when it comes to IT deployment. There is a budget, and periodically there are upgrades. In other words, technology upgrades are generally addressed only at semi-periodic intervals, and when they are, there is not a lot of discrimination in terms of the technology array that is provided to each member of the team. The secretary gets a similar set-up as the boss, the engineer, the lawyer, and the salesman. That is insane. Enterprises must realize that within each organization there are the techie-knowledge haves and the have-nots — and every effort should be made so that the techies get what they need (defined by what they say they need, which may be different from the techie-type in the next office) as quickly as possible and with as little red tape as possible.

    Finally, the problems described in the WSJ article seem to be of the type that could have been foreseen (and I thought that everything Obama is inherently infused with superior intelligence, no?). The big O’s tech Oracle should have and could have identified the potential issues earlier and could have and should have started to formulate an action plan sooner, so as to enable the team to hit the ground running earlier with better gear. If this is an indicator of future performance, the future does not look rosy, to say the least.

    My advice to Team Obama — stop whining and get to work with whatever tools you can get your hands on. “Yes we can” should not mean “Yes we can, if we get everything we want.”

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