Sunday, January 18, 2009

Choices Narrowed for First U.S. CTO

Two Indian-born technology executives are the leading candidates for the incoming Obama Administration's newly created position of federal chief technology officer, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. They are Padmasree Warrior, the chief technology officer of Silicon Valley networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO), and Vivek Kundra, who holds the same title in the government of Washington, D.C., the sources say.

The two candidates offer President-elect Obama a clear choice of skills. Warrior, who previously was CTO at Motorola (MOT), represents hard-core technology expertise. Kundra, who was named to the D.C. post in 2007, has held similar government positions in the past and has a reputation for using technology to make government more open and inclusive. Neither the Obama transition team nor the two executives would comment on their potential selection by Obama.

The President-elect is expected to announce his pick for CTO in a matter of days. One of the sources says the selection is being held up because it's not yet clear how the person selected as CTO will interact with the government's chief information officer, a position now held by Karen Evans, and with the new cyber-security czar, another position that has not yet been filed.

Priority: Tech

Asked about Obama's heavy focus on technology, Jeff Lande, executive vice-president of the industry group Technology Association of America, said: "The President-elect clearly recognizes the importance of technology and these positions, and is elevating them to the appropriate level of importance in his Administration." He declined to comment on the qualifications of the two candidates.

Warrior has a breadth of technology experience. In 23 years at Motorola, she headed up research for its semiconductor unit and ran its energy systems group before being appointed CTO in 2003—when she was placed in charge of a 4,600-person R&D lab. In addition to being the technology czar at Cisco, she is an articulate spokesperson for the company, often keynoting technology conferences. She was born in Vijayawada, India, and has degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and Cornell University. She lived in Chicago, where Obama established his political base, for a number of years.

Entrepreneurial Strategy

While Warrior declined to comment on her candidacy, she gave a brief e-mail statement to BusinessWeek: "Cisco is committed to working closely with the Obama Administration on their plans to deploy digital infrastructure to grow our economy and create jobs. Smart networking technologies and IT play a critical role in transforming government, energy, education, and health care. President-elect Obama and his team fully understand the importance of digital infrastructure to further our technology leadership as a nation."

Kundra was born in India but raised in Tanzania until his family moved to Maryland when he was 11. He has degrees from the University of Maryland. Before he moved to D.C., he was assistant secretary of commerce and technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he set up a Web site designed to maximize citizen involvement in the state's procurement decisions. In D.C., he runs his 600-person staff like a startup, experimenting in cloud computing, open source software, social networking, and other cutting-edge technologies. Kundra advises Obama's transition team on technology issues.

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