IT in the Political Season

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 10-15-2008 Print Email
Information technology isn't all about bits and bytes. There's a moral and societal element that needs to be part of the conversation.

We talk a lot in this magazine about alignment--putting the power of IT to work to increase shareholder value.

But there are other values, too, ones that matter deeply to us. How we deal with our moral, social and political views in a business context is a tough question. The passions of the larger world can follow us to work, and the issues behind them often are highly relevant to the work itself. That's especially true in a political season.

Sometimes the mix of values--shareholder and otherwise--turns out to be easy to navigate. John Parkinson lays out a case for energy-saving IT policies that have everything to do with the bottom line. The implications transcend financial statements, and many people may be more motivated to pursue them out of environmental or geopolitical concerns. However, even an ardent denier of anthropogenic climate change wouldn't quibble with cutting costs in the data center.

Sometimes political topics can be discussed at work in ways that focus on a business case and not politics. I hope that anyone working in IT, regardless of their political leanings, will be able to read my article about the use of technology in the presidential campaigns and come away with useful information about strategies and tools that can be applied in their own businesses.

I tried to ignore my own political opinions as I wrote the story. There's more in the article about the Barack Obama campaign than the John McCain organization, but that's where the reporting took me.

Sometimes the discussions of public policy are integral parts of the business and technology world. It helps when such things are discussed with the clarity and calm marshaled by Internet paterfamilias Vint Cerf, the subject of this month's Expert Voices interview feature. Cerf approaches issues with an engineer's focus on results, not an ideologue's predigested arguments.

His case for tangible but limited government involvement in infrastructure projects and his thoughts on the role of a possible chief technology officer for the federal government are pragmatic and nuanced. (And, at a moment when unprecedented public intervention in the financial markets is challenging long-held assumptions about the role of government in our economic system, they're timely as well). These are issues that matter to business and to IT, and, properly presented, discussions about them need to be held in business circles. Ultimately, they are bottom-line concerns.

There are no bright lines that separate some of these issues into job-safe and off-limits areas. If we're careful and respectful, we can bring these issues into our conversations in ways that benefit us all.

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