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GCN : June 2013
Thirty years ago, the world's fastest su- percomputer was the brand-new Cray X-MP, which had a whopping 16M of memory. The Internet was a research network called the Arpanet, and most people had never even heard of that. "Desktop" meant the top of a desk, and "laptop" wasn't in the dictionary. (Also, a "dictionary" was a large, bound book of paper sheets containing the definitions of words.) A lot has changed, obviously, in the world of IT since then, and the changes in the public sector have been as dra- matic as anywhere. We asked seven IT leaders with extensive experience about the biggest impacts --- good and bad --- on government IT over the past 30 years. WHAT TECHNOLOGY HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON THE OPERATION OF GOVERNMENT IN THE LAST 30 YEARS? ROBERT CAREY PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CIO, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT The explosion of smart mobile devices. As a general matter, smart devices have been a breakthrough in personal computing, whereby any user can engage the Internet from virtually any location and communi- cate, conduct transactions or render deci- sions informed by information retrieved from the Internet. They are a catalyst to vast increases in personal productivity and, as such, DOD is working to leverage all that these devices have to offer. From the DOD perspective, this type of mobile technology is a critical tool for both gar- rison and joint force combat operations. TRAVERS HOWERTON CTO, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION The fundamental shift is the rise of the In- ternet in the early '90s and the commer- cialization of it by Microsoft in the mid- 90s. The Internet has been the underlying foundation for all technologies that have come since: mobility, social networking and big data analytics. All of those require an Internet backbone. ANIL KARMEL DEPUTY CTO, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION When you think about the way we commu- nicate and collaborate, the Internet was absolutely a foundational game changer. The piece I would add to that equation would be the cell phone. It changed the paradigm from a desk-based environment to [the ability] to communicate and col- laborate from virtually anywhere. LT. GEN. (RET.) WILLIAM T. LORD FORMER AIR FORCE CIO AND PROVISIONAL COMMANDER OF THE USAF CYBER COMMAND In the 1980s it was the desktop comput- ing and expansion of the Internet ... that brought efficiencies with computer power and information to fingertips of individual users. In the 1990s it was mo- bile computing and modern cellular tele- phony ... that allowed computer power to be brought anywhere. In the 2000s it was the ability of individuals to "reach into the power" of the Internet with the de- velopment of software which didn't have to be produced by experts ... now many contribute knowledge to all. JOSPEPH MAHAFFEE EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CISO, BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON Over the past 30 years, there have been three significant waves of technology change that have dramatically affected government operations. You can put all three into the "faster, smaller and more powerful" category and they have touched every corner of the federal government, transforming how it does business. In the 1980s, the Internet and the avail- ability of affordable personal computers allowed government agencies, the military and those who support those institutions get connected, more easily share informa- tion and create more efficient operations. In the 1990s, the continued miniatur- ization of microprocessors and memory technologies, coupled with better battery technologies, sped up the broad prolifera- tion of wireless technologies, particularly smart phones that make e-mail accessible. These technologies cut the physical teth- ers to the Internet, created a more mobile workforce and society and shortened the business cycle. In the 2000s, we saw the emergence of cloud technologies, which is unleash- ing the power of data. With exceptionally cheap computer processing and data stor- age, the cloud offers the possibility of cen- tralizing large volumes of data and mining 38 GCN JUNE 2013 • GCN.COM [30 years of government IT] Looking back: The biggest influences on 30 years of government computing