Monday, March 07, 2005

Thibodeaux on enabling technologies

The Advertiser interviews Keith Thibodeaux, the city's new chief technical officer, in "Q&A: City's tech chief saves time, money; Thibodeaux upgrades services, cuts expenses." The emphasis of the story is on running Lafayette like a business, a central theme of the Durel administration. It does get around to fiber, as all stories concerning technology in this town eventually must. Thibodeaux comes out of LEDA (Lafayette Economic Development Authority) where he was chief technology officer, so the question was truly inevitable. As you would expect, he is for fiber:

Q: You haven't played a visible role in the LUS fiber optics battle. Being a former economic development and information technology person, what do you think?

A: I think it's a great project. It's something that makes our city unique in so many areas. If Lafayette can roll this out early, that means our students, our businessmen, our citizens get an early start into this world, and that is going to propel us over the years faster than anything else.

Q: The average citizen has a difficult time grasping how fiber optics availability will be important to them in the future. Can you put it in perspective?

A: It's a very futuristic thing. The first time the telephone was unveiled, some very well-established people were saying we're not going to use this thing. There's no purpose. There are famous missteps in history when it comes to enabling technologies.

There are things you put out there you don't know exactly where you're going to end up. The Internet. Nobody in 1992 had a clue where the Internet would be today. In '94 I remember the first time that people inside a company were really starting to get aggressive in asking for e-mail access to be able to send files to people outside the company. Today, what would you do without that?

I think that applies to this project. Somebody is putting into your hands a tool you've never had before. I don't think anybody can definitively say this is everything that's going to come out of that, but I think history has some pretty great examples that it's going to be some great stuff

That response might surprise you. You might be tempted to think that he'd be primed to respond in terms of mechanics (how much cheaper and easier it will be for companies to use our resources in opposition to what will be available elsewhere) or to focus on exciting stories about the potential for particular businesses (like the bandwidth needs of geologists in the oil and gas industry or its essential role in video gaming). And I am sure he does do that when asked a question which leads in that direction. But when asked an open-ended question, his response seems to me to be exactly right: his instinct is to point to how bandwidth is an enabling technology; it does not so much advance particular businesses as make whole new ranges of things available—to any person or business with the imagination and get-up-and-go to use it.

The fact that this is a broad enabling technology is precisely why, for it to be most valuable to our people, we need to make sure that we get it early, that it is cheap, and that it is available not just in the wealthy areas but in every corner of town. I am sure our people have the right stuff. We just need to get it early and we need to get it to everyone.

Thibodeaux gets it right.

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