Building for the future by fixing digital infrastructure in the United States

Building for the future by fixing digital infrastructure in the United States


CHICAGO – “Building for the future” is a very hollow statement when the vast majority of stimulus funding is aimed at maintaining the past. Though federal stimulus programs might have good intentions, they really don’t do too much for improving the digital infrastructure.
Antiquated processes, network infrastructure and information systems create just as many liabilities as old and rusting bridges and crumbling roads with deep potholes. The money (several billion dollars) reserved for broadband initiatives is the equivalent of earmarking some change for lunch money as compared to other traditional areas of funding.
We need to get executives and politicians adopting a panoramic view instead of a narrow view of infrastructure. They need to fund critical civil and private development projects with the remainder of funds left within the stimulus package.
We’re Out of the Industrial Age
“Shovel ready” is a term that ties the thought process and the capital funding approach to manual labor and traditional physical layers of the infrastructure. This is the level of understanding of most politicians. It’s not the 1930s any more.
While visualization of what “shovel ready” is conjures up a vision of roads and highways, it doesn’t lend itself to other important layers of the infrastructure like network and broadband connectivity. In today’s global economy, they are critical components for the platform for commerce. It’s like creating a narrow policy that isolates funding to very specific niches like:

Hammer ready. Let’s create some jobs for the construction industry. Let’s get more carpenters back to work.
Truck ready. Let’s create some jobs for the transportation industry. Let’s get more truck drivers back to work.

Where is the digital infrastructure equivalent? How much money would be better spent if funding that’s earmarked for manual “make-work projects” focused more on upgrading existing network infrastructure and adding digital infrastructure to upgrade antiquated and labor-intensive government applications? Why are we stuck in trying to “save the Industrial Age” in the U.S.?
We must fix or replace obsolete digital infrastructure both in and outside of the government. Take the latest design and project management techniques and apply them to the network as well as information systems infrastructures for both the private sector as well as the government.
Stimulus Shift: Strategic Digital Initiative
The stimulus funding focus should broaden and also become aimed at higher skill sets that have been systematically cut from many organizations by layoffs and offshoring. This has left a group of highly skilled people who used to be a major contributing segment of the tax base underemployed at best and unemployed as a worst case.
Projects have to be looked at from a forward-thinking 21st and 22nd century perspective and not a 19th and 20th century perspective. What can be built that will have a lasting residual value to the country as well as society? This strategic question for the remainder of the stimulus funding should take into account the digital infrastructure as well as the traditional infrastructure.
What if we attacked saving this segment with as much vigor as we did for the Industrial Age skill sets like the automobile industry? Could we do this:

Keyboard ready. Let’s create jobs for the IT industry. Let’s get the unemployed and underemployed IT professionals back to work in meaningful jobs where they can utilize their skills.
Network ready. Let’s create jobs for the communications industry. Let’s get the unemployed and underemployed network services and technology professionals back to work building the digital infrastructure back into a world-class network infrastructure.

There are no best practices in bureaucracies. The focus there is on constant requests for more budget and self-preservation. There are many new applications that could be added to local, state and federal governments that would also make them run more efficiently and effectively.
We need funding programs for intellectual capital as well as digital infrastructure rather than just construction jobs. Government programs that could use new systems include:

  • Air traffic control systems
  • Health care systems (Medicaid and Medicare)
  • Immigration systems
  • Any other agency that has antiquated information systems
    Perhaps we could also set a goal of cutting the operational budgets by 20 percent to 25 percent through the application of new technology. Why not? Government should not be exempt from having to cut back their own budgets just as everyone else has had to do in the last several years. Technology is a strategic enabler to streamline operations.
    Carlinism: “Building for the future” is a hollow statement when funding is aimed at maintaining the past
    Recent columns by James Carlini

    James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and is president of Carlini & Associates. He can be reached at or 773-370-1888. Check out his blog at
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    James Carlini has been asked to speak at the upcoming Department of Homeland Security’s Workshop on Aging Infrastructure in New York City later this month.
    This column previously appeared in, and was reprinted with its permission.
    The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.