SAN FRANCISCO—Hillary Rodham Clinton, odds-on favorite at this early date to become the Democratic Party candidate for president in 2016, admittedly does not know much about the inner workings of new-gen IT, but she knows a great deal about how such innovation is impacting key social issues on a world and national level.
Thanks to her previous lives as U.S. Secretary of State, New York senator and wife to a former president, Clinton has an abiding global view of the machinations of world and national politics and economics, the U.S.' culture of innovation, and how the fruits of the IT industry ideally should be helping the middle and lower classes enjoy improved lifestyles.
Clinton on Aug. 28 addressed an audience of about 500 tech execs, tech investors, journalists and other invited guests at OpenSDx, a one-day event hosted by new-gen storage provider Nexenta and staged across the street from VMworld at the St. Regis Hotel. She used the opportunity to applaud the tech sector's vast ability to innovate and problem-solve but also encouraged its leaders to remember to help poor and emerging communities as the IT business counts its blessings.
'IT Building a 21st-Century U.S. Economy'
"I admit I'm not an expert in software-defined storage, nor the intricacies of cloud computing," Clinton said, "but I have learned enough that I know the advances you are making are helping to build a 21st-century American economy that is vibrant and dynamic, and that we need to make smart choices and investments that are inclusive and broadly shared as well."
Clinton told the IT leaders that they are key players in helping reduce the number of Americans who feel locked out of 21st-century economic opportunity.
She said incidents such as the recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by local police illustrated chronic economic and justice system inequities the country needs to solve. "Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone, not in America. We are better than that,'" Clinton said.
"This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray. We cannot ignore the inequities that exist in our justice system."
'Energy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship'
Clinton applauded the "energy, innovation and entrepreneurship that is in our DNA" and that "despite our having gone through some tough times, we always end up rising to the challenge. What we do end up doing is out-working, out-innovating and out-competing [our foreign competitors]. When my husband was president in the '90s, we were struggling to come out of another recession, wages were flat, unemployment was up, the national debt had ballooned, jobs were being outsourced, and many wondered if America would ever be competitive again. But indeed, reports of America's decline were greatly exaggerated.
"Smart economic policies, the talent and determination of American workers, and the Internet revolution helped the United States bounce back and achieve unprecedented growth during the '90s."
The power of the Internet wasn't just the dot-coms that were adding new jobs to the economy, Clinton said.
"More important were the productivity gains that computing and the Internet brought to all kinds of industries that we wouldn't necessarily think of being 'high-tech.' That's what drove prosperity far beyond Silicon Valley, Route 128, Austin or any other location where people were inventing and creating the future," Clinton said.
Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics Keys to Future Success
That's what advances like cloud computing are doing for businesses today—operating more efficiently, better serving their own customers, increasing productivity and profits, and helping the economic recovery, Clinton said.
Looking ahead, Clinton acknowledged that the IT sector has "enormous opportunities ahead for big data, now that we have the processing power and tools to really analyze the mountains of data generated by life in the 21st century."
The United States is home to one-third of all the data in the world, Clinton said. "I think that's a major competitive advantage. We've already seen how the release of government GPS and weather data has helped create new industries and given important tools to everybody from farmers to truckers," she said.
The former secretary of state cited a recent McKinsey economic report that "productivity gains unlocked by big data analytics could add hundreds of billions of dollars to our nation's GDP with businesses working better, cheaper and faster. It also helps streamline supply chains and inventories, improve design and manufacturing processes, and enables more efficient distribution in retail networks."
The potential savings in the health care industry alone are staggering, Clinton said. "We're beginning to see some of those results now," she said.
Cites HealthCare.gov Fix
Clinton cited how IT experts (from Google, Oracle and other companies) helped fix the HealthCare.gov Website rollout a year ago and put the Affordable Care Act back on track.
"You could see the synergy," she said. "Let's face it: Our government is woefully behind in all of its policies that affect the usage of technology. When I came to the State Department, it was still against the rules to let all foreign service officers have access to a BlackBerry. You couldn't have desktop computers when Colin Powell was there. Everything you are taking advantage of and inventing and using is still a generation or two behind when it comes to our government.
"So when people say, 'Wow, look at that rollout, it wasn't done right.' Well, it was partly because of the procurement rules, the technology rules that govern the federal government and made it very difficult. There were other problems as well, and thankfully, some of the folks here came in and straightened it out," Clinton said.
Some Clinton sound bites on other topics:
-- "We had more women graduating with degrees in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] subjects 30 years ago than we do today. The government can do some things like more STEM education ... but most of the solution rests with the private sector, with individual companies."
-- "We never carried laptops in countries like Russia and China because they'd [hackers] get into them in a nanosecond."
-- "We've got to have a sensible debate and stand up to the NRA on gun control and isolate the extremists. And some of the loudest voices are in that category."