Brad Smith: Gov 2.0 Expo 2010

Gov. 2.0 Expo 2010
Remarks by Brad Smith, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs
Washington, D.C.
May 26, 2010

BRAD SMITH: Good morning. It’s nice to be here.

You know, in my job, I spend a lot of time talking to people who don’t come from the technology sector, and they often point out to me that our industry doesn’t necessarily do a great job of contributing to clear communication. After all, one of the most successful companies in the industry is named after a fruit. One of the most successful products is named after a window. One of the every day problems that e-mail users have is named after a form of ham. And that confuses people. And so, now what have we done, we’ve taken the next big thing and we’ve named it after the weather. Of course, as one person said to me last night, you didn’t even name it after weather that excites people. Most people when they go out and they see a cloud, don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a good day.

I point out, well, when you’re from Seattle, as long as there’s no rain coming out of those things, it is a good day. Whether the weather is sunny or not, it is clear that the world is racing to the cloud. And, whether it’s government, or the private sector, or individuals, people are embracing cloud computing with amazing speed. And that, as much as anything else, explains why it’s important for all of us who work in the industry to do the same.

At Microsoft, we’ve taken our traditional offerings and strengths in the server space, and we’ve up-leveled them and moved them to the cloud, so that today we offer cloud services in virtually everything we do, ranging from productivity and communications to storage and the platform. And we’ve added, in addition to those commercial cloud services that you see on this slide, a whole range of consumer cloud services as well.

Every day customers around the world are making the change as they move to the cloud. Today, the University of Arizona is announcing that it is moving to the cloud. It’s got 18,000 faculty and staff who use e-mail, who need to collaborate. They looked at so-called “free” offerings, but concluded that they didn’t offer the security that an institution with half-a-billion dollars of research activity really needs. So, they’re announcing today that they’re moving to Microsoft’s Business Productivity Suite. What the University of Arizona’s decision reflects is what everybody is really seeing. The cloud is creating new opportunities: new opportunities for customers, new opportunities for government. And, indeed, one of the benefits of the cloud you just heard about, the cloud can often make computing cheaper.

But cloud computing is not just about making government cheaper. It’s about making government better. And that’s the real opportunity that cloud computing offers. This is illustrated in what governments are doing around the country and around the world. The City of Miami, like many cities, offers a 311 service. Every day over 4,000 citizens in Miami report a problem to their government. It may be getting a pothole fixed; it may be getting the trash picked up if the truck missed it. And, of course, people who call often have two questions in mind: I wonder if someone else has reported this already, and I wonder if anything is being done? Well, the City of Miami moved from a telephonic system to a computer system, so that an individual can not only report over the Internet, but they can then track the progress and see other reports in their neighborhood. They moved their system onto Microsoft’s Windows Azure system.

And you might ask, well, how long did it take them to do that from the day they conceived of that idea to the day it was deployed? It wasn’t eight months, it wasn’t eight weeks, it took them eight days from conception to deployment. That’s what the power of the cloud offers when it’s combined with the power of developer tools, and a platform that people already know and understand. And it’s not just for cities; it’s for government agencies of all types.

You heard a few minutes ago from NASA. Well, NASA has used the power of the cloud to unleash information and connect in new ways with more people than ever before. NASA has hundreds of thousands of digital images of the surface of Mars. And one of their goals has been to knit these together, so that there would be a comprehensive digital map of a new planet.

Well, until recently those images were only available to a handful of graduate students at Arizona State University. But, working with Microsoft, and the jet propulsion laboratory, and Arizona State, and Oxford, NASA created a new crowd sourcing application and online tool and game, so that now literally millions of people using software that runs on the Windows Azure platform, can access these images and help knit them together with the right geo-location. This is what is moving government forward.

As promising as all of these opportunities are, however, it’s important for all of us to think about the challenges that cloud computing creates, as well. Often when new technologies are born there’s such a sense of euphoria that we failed to really be thoughtful about the challenges until much later on. Yet, we really can’t afford to do that in this instance, and these are questions not only for people who create technology, for people who create laws, who create regulations and who implement technology.

The challenges are becoming clear, and by becoming clear it’s also becoming clear what we need to do. We have a challenge as a country around IT infrastructure. If we’re going to make the most of cloud computing, we need government not only to adopt it, but we need government and industry to come together to enable it. And that means as the FCC said, creating by the end of this decade a broadband infrastructure for our country where people in their homes have 100 megabit a second access to the Internet, and that becomes the definition of high speed, not the definitions that all too commonly prevail today.

We need to think hard about privacy. Information 25 years ago moved out of people’s desk drawers and onto their desktops, in that case the hard drives on their desktops. But now information is moving from the desktop into data centers, and those data centers belong to other people. Typically companies like Microsoft, or Google, or IBM, or Amazon who are in the cloud services business, but this shift is profound. It changes where people put their information and it changes who can get access to it.

The privacy landscape is being reshaped on almost a monthly basis. And we’re going to have to think through as a society how we want to adapt to it and it’s not just privacy of course, it’s security, as well. When all of this information moves into a data center it creates the opportunity to build new data protection that is more secure than anything that the world has ever seen, but at the same time when you build the Fort Knox of data you attract a lot of people who want to break in.

And as the security attacks on Google showed in January, we need to take this seriously, we need to address it with our eyes open. Providers have a duty to tell people what’s really going on when they suffer a security breach, and we need to take effective action not only as companies, but as societies, and with government, to make sure that people’s personal information is secure.

These are challenges not just for national governments. They’re challenges for governments around the world, because suddenly the shape of national sovereignty is changing as well. If there is a consumer in Italy using an e-mail service, and that e-mail is stored in a data center in Ireland, and it’s run by an American company, whose law applies, what government can get access to it, for purposes that people like, or perhaps don’t like? Is it the Italian government? Is it the Irish government? Is it the U.S. government? Is it the French government if the data travels across France between Italy and Ireland? These too are questions that do not yet have answers, and yet answers clearly will be needed.

That illustrates more than anything else that as exciting as the cloud is, it’s creating not only new opportunities and new challenges; it’s creating new responsibilities, as well. And working together, we’re going to have to meet these new responsibilities. I think the responsibilities start with those of us in industry itself. We need to innovate and keep innovating to improve security for data centers, to improve security for individuals. We need to create  we need to continue creating new tools to protect the privacy of consumers around the world, tools like the in private browsing that we created for Internet Explorer 8, tools that more and more can empower individuals to decide how they want to control and protect their information.

And yet, it would be a great mistake if those of us in industry thought that we could solve all these problems and meet all these responsibilities by ourselves. There is a need for new leadership from government as well. Laws need to be modernized. Here in the United States, there are two very important laws for the cloud. One relates to the protection of privacy, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the other relates to security; it’s the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

One was adopted in 1984. The other was adopted in 1986. They’re good laws, but they have a problem. They reflect the way computing worked a quarter of a century ago. We need to update them. We need to fill in gaps that have emerged. We need to make changes so that they’re as relevant for the next decade and beyond as they have been in the last 25 years.

We need to recognize as industry leaders and as government leaders that not only do we need to act individually; we need to find new ways to work together. I think we can learn a lot from what the auto industry experienced when they addressed auto safety. If you go and buy a car, you never see an airbag, but because there’s been a sense of standardization, because there is broad reporting by auto companies, because consumer organizations have published reports, it’s easy to compare safety features in automobiles.

It’s not nearly as easy today if you’re a consumer to compare security and privacy features in e-mail, or in collaboration. We need to make it easy for consumers in the future. And, consumers are going to have to do their part as well. Just as we as individuals are the ones responsible for putting on the seatbelt in a car, consumers are going to remain responsible for ensuring that their security protection is turned on in their PCs, or phones, or other computing devices.

Finally, we need to recognize that governments around the world are going to have to collaborate more closely than ever. No government can solve this problem by itself. Indeed, if it tries, it’s all too likely to make the world more complicated, and make these issues more difficult rather than less so. Why? Because we’ll end up with a Web of laws around the world that all too often will conflict. And that will inject more uncertainty, will create more confusion, and even more important will make it more difficult to make real progress.

At the end of the day, if we’re going to seize these new opportunities, if we’re going to address these new challenges, and if we’re going to meet these new responsibilities, we need a new conversation. It’s a conversation that needs to bring together people like all of you in this room, people who are responsible for information technology in government, people who see the difference that it can make for the way your agency works, for the way it can improve the lives of citizens that you serve. And it needs to bring together the representatives of consumer groups. It needs to bring together the people who are creating technology tools in government. It needs to be a conversation that spans the country, and the globe, and doesn’t take place solely in a single capital.

It’s a conversation that needs to start now. It’s a conversation that you all can contribute to today. It’s a conversation that will take not just weeks, but months and years as we work through these new challenges. We need to get started, and we all need to take a part. Certainly, on behalf of Microsoft, we look forward to being an active participant.

Thank you very much.


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