Obama’s IT guru urges inclusion of IT in stimulus plans

25 Mar 2009

Governments must move swiftly to include more IT and ICT investments in their economic stimulus plans – that’s according to Robert Atkinson, who was technology adviser to President Barack Obama’s transition team.

Atkinson (pictured), the founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), explained yesterday at a Southeast Asian forum on stimulating economies through information infrastructure: “ICT has larger economic impacts than other kinds of investment areas in the economy.”

He said investment in computers, broadband, internet and digital technologies will have a bigger, longer-term impact than any other kind of economic stimulus spending.

Explaining that technology investments were largely responsible for US productivity gains over the past decade, Atkinson said other countries can also realise similar benefits by investing in technology infrastructure.

“If you invest in ICT infrastructure in an economic downturn, you not only get better short-term job-creation effects, but you also get better long-term productivity impacts,” he said.

“You don’t have to do it [invest in technology], but it is a much smarter way of doing it.”

While the US government’s stimulus plan dedicated US$7.2bn for technology investments, Atkinson said it could have done even more. “The market could have absorbed at least US$15 billion.”

He added that governments must move quickly in order for stimulus packages to have an impact.

“You want these projects to hit the ground running over the next 18 months, and ideally sooner than that,” he said.

“If you make these investments, and you make them right, you can certainly have long-run economic impacts, which can be very sizable.”

The ITIF is a non-partisan think tank, based in Washington DC. Itsmission is to formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity internationally.

Recommendations from the ITIF helped direct the Obama administration to allocate U$39.2bn from the US$780bn stimulus package for improving IT network infrastructure.

Of this U$39.2bn, approximately US$7.2bn will be spent on broadband internet, US$19bn on health, and US$13bn on a smart power grid for more efficient power transmission and pricing.

Atkinson said all of this investment will help create more than one million jobs in the US, with 60pc of these being in small businesses.

He also explained that wider broadband penetration will lead to the creation of newer computers and accessories, more e-commerce and e-government.

In addition, Atkinson said smart electricity grids will spur the production of smart appliances, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, energy storage and residential solar power.

Emphasising how the IT industry is used by virtually every sector, such as manufacturing, transportation, retail and services, Atkinson explained that by using technology, these industries can boost productivity levels, subsequently reducing the cost of products and increase sales, thus – ultimately – leading to higher employment levels.

Atkinson gave global examples of IT-revolutionising economies, including South Korea, Japan, India, Singapore and Sweden.

Also at the conference, Navin Shenoy, the Asia-Pacific general manager of Intel Corporation, spoke about how the global economic crisis is a “massive opportunity” to increase the world’s productivity by investing wisely in the technology industry.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the world,” he said.

For further information on ITIF, visit: www.itif.org.

By Carmel Doyle

Pictured: Robert Atkinson, the founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF)