It is always a pleasure to attend the Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in Williamsburg, VA, sponsored by ACT-IAC, and this year has been no exception. It gives me the opportunity to mingle with many people I have gotten to know and enjoy interacting with over the years; to enjoy the interesting historical settings of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown; and of course, and to learn about new issues.

One of those opportunities was Sunday evening’s keynote speech by Scott Klososky, a founder of a number of companies, and currently an Advisory Board Member, for Critical Technologies. Klososky’s talk highlighted a few technology issues facing the federal government and associated conversations.

I liked his presentation but in the end I was not satisfied that he provided useful action steps.

Klososky is a pretty entertaining speaker and spent an hour providing us with the increasing power of the Internet and how most of our organizations, private or otherwise, do not “get it” or at least do not use it well.

One example he presented was of a young boy in Chicago (Keenan Cahill) who used YouTube to videotape himself lip-syncing to current popular music. A number of these videos went “viral” until it had over 45 million views. We were asked if any of our websites or associated videos ever even had 10 million views, let alone 45 million views.

I did like his prediction that Web 3.0 would be the internet of things, non-human interaction.
The reason I especially liked it was that two years ago when I presented to a much smaller audience at the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) I said exactly that, arguing that the then common wisdom about the semantic web being Web 3.0 was incorrect.

Having said all that, I kept waiting for the “so what” part of the presentation. Telling us that the Internet was having a big impact was not particularly a revelation. And telling us that many organizations don’t know how to maximize its usage was not exactly new news.

Why did I feel he didn’t hit that mark?

First, I think he was overly optimistic about what the Internet revolution implied.

I think that the Internet being an enabler of individual creativity by destroying barriers to participation is a very Western and not universal attitude. One need only look at the Arab Spring, which Klososky referenced, which has had instances of social networking tools moving the revolution along and other instances, like Syria’s use of Bluecoat software to monitor and censor dissidents, where social networking tools were used to support the reverse result.

As an additional example, when I was in China a few years ago as part of a Solar Eclipse group, I had to use a proxy server to be able to post to Facebook and to use Twitter. Chinese citizens would be taking great risks doing the same thing.

Second, he suffered from a common problem which I refer to “But it would work if I was there or someone listened to me more” syndrome.

This is also a very common ailment of political appointees; having been one, I know. The reality is that almost always there are systemic reasons that people are not able to accomplish the obvious, like take advantage of the Internet. Just reminding them of that fact isn’t enough. It is necessary to understand in a realistic fashion what drives behavior, the reward (and punishment) structure, and how revenue flows and why within the Federal Government as opposed to a private company if one really wants to think through how to effect change in result.

The problem is not a lack of aware and smart people; from the three years I spent at the Department of Transportation I know there are many of both.

Finally, while I realize I might be unfair in talking about what he left out of a single one hour-long talk, I believe we make a mistake by thinking that the impact of the Internet is actually understood today.

I continue to be amazed that people will readily admit that today was unpredictable three years ago but do not recognize that three years from now is even less easy to forecast. We need remember to plan for change as we plan for reacting to the current reality. Agility ends up being more a requirement then focusing as much on efficiency, even though making that point is very difficult especially in our budget constrained environment.

Having said that, Klososky’s talk was provided food for thought, the company was fun, the weather was super, and the rest of the conference thus far has been educational and entertaining.

For more coverage of the Executive Leadership Conference, see ELC here.

Daniel Mintz is chief operating officer of Powertek Corp. He served as CIO of the Department of Transportation from 2006-2009.