Presidential son-in-law and White House Office of American Innovation head Jared Kushner will hold an A-list gathering of tech titans for a summit on improving the government's technology and services on Monday. But don't expect them to fix government tech.
"Tech summits and government technology czars have come and gone for years without any discernible impact on technology company performances or government efficiencies," said Moody's Investors Services analyst Rick Lane.
The Trump administration will field tips from executives at companies representing trillions of dollars in market cap. The guests reportedly include Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL - Get Report) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN - Get Report) CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple Inc. (AAPL - Get Report) Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT - Get Report) CEO Satya Nadella, Oracle Corp. (ORCL - Get Report) Co-CEO Safra Catz, IBM Corp. (IBM - Get Report) CEO Ginni Rometty and others.
Whatever technology issues the federal government has today exist despite czars and special advisers for technology that have worked with presidents since the 1990s. As a result, Monday's confab may actually do more for PR than IT.
"Like many public gatherings of high-profile people, the upcoming tech summit is primarily a public relations exercise by the federal government, and the tech CEOs who have distanced themselves from the administration," said Nat Burgess Seattle of the tech advisory firm TechStrat Ltd.
Finding the right tech isn't the only problem, or even the biggest problem, said Bill Aulet, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.
"Innovation in large organizations is a very difficult thing," he said. While there may be many new applications that the government could deploy, the bigger challenges reside in changing things like organizational design, incentives and staffers' willingness to modify their habits.
"I fear that by focusing strictly on the technologies and their potential, which is plentiful and exciting, without the softer elements mentioned above, these efforts will fail and give 'innovation' a bad name," Aulet wrote in an email. "This is very difficult stuff and really needs experts with experience to do it and there are not a lot of them out there."
Changes over the last two decades have put the government behind the game in technology, TechStrat's Burgess said. "Specifically, information technology used to be so rare and expensive that only the government could assemble meaningful technology platforms and initiatives -- such as DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], which gave us the Internet -- and government would actively regulate critical sectors in order to encourage investment, which gave us the telephone monopolies," he said.
"Now that tech is cheap and ubiquitous, the private sector is outpacing the government in areas where there is demand for better technology," Burgess added.
For an innovative portal that crunches data from more than 70 government sources, for instance, go to USAFacts.org, a project started by former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer, and not to the Federal government.
Likewise, the space race between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos is more gripping than any rivalry between NASA and the Russian space program. Bezos said in April that he will sell $1 billion in Amazon stock per year to fund his Blue Origin rocket outfit. Spacex founder Elon Musk, who recently withdrew from Trump's tech advisory panel when the President withdrew from the Paris Agreement climate pact, even wants to build a city on Mars.
"That dynamic won't change over a cocktail party of Internet titans," Burgess said. "A gathering designed to improve government access to technology would have a very different attendee list -- it would include the CEOs of companies that supply technology to our government" such as Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT - Get Report) , Raytheon Co. (RTN - Get Report) , McKesson Corp. (MCK - Get Report) and Computer Sciences Corp., now part of DXC Technology Corp. (DXC - Get Report)
Similarly, Moody's analyst Gerry Granovsky suggested that the summit's guest list will be a litmus test. The big systems integrators that work with the government, such as Accenture plc (ACN - Get Report) , IBM and CSC, would be valuable additions. "They're usually the ones putting tech into place in government," Granovsky said. "If they're not there, but only the 'name' tech companies, then this is a PR driven event with not much substance."
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