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Blog Post

Innovation Technology as a Business (and Messaging) Tool

By Adam Stone and Tobias Naegele

January 5, 2017

In the view of President-elect Donald Trump, innovation is a mindset. His leadership style and business experience would suggest innovation is most valued when it pays off. As a businessman, Trump understands risk and knows both how to take and mitigate risks to his advantage.

The Obama administration put a premium on digital technology and innovation, establishing U.S. Digital Services and the General Services Administration’s 18F organization, bringing with them agile software development and a taste of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. They also sought to cut through acquisition timelines by bypassing conventional bidding and setting up organizations like the military tech accelerator Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the Homeland Security Administration’s Procurement Innovation Laboratory.

President Obama established new federal tech titans, including a chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), chief data officer and chief information security officer (CISO), each with authority across the executive branch, as part of his effort to accelerate modernization and technology insertion across the federal enterprise. Whether or not Trump retains those positions – or any of their occupants – is up in the air. Federal CIO Tony Scott expressed openness to continuing in his post, as has CISO Gregory Touhill, a retired Air Force brigadier general, who said he’s taken the job “for the long term.” While the jury may be out on whether a federal CTO or chief data officer is a necessity, there is clear value in the other two positions as a means of driving overall policy.

Preceding November’s election, the Trump campaign’s use of technology tools offered additional clues to the administration’s approach. In an interview in Forbes, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said he drove sales of hats and other campaign merchandise from $8,000 a day to $80,000 after “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting.” Similarly, the campaign leveraged $160,000 in low-tech policy videos into more than 74 million views.

The picture begins to emerge of a Trump administration strategy that embraces technology innovation not as an end in itself, but rather as a tool to be tapped as needed. Look for Trump to do the same as chief executive.