President Clinton To Autotask MSPs: Tech Interdependence Creates Enormous Opportunity For IT Sector

Former President Bill Clinton told Autotask customers that they need to balance addressing unanticipated crises with staying ahead of the technological curve.

The 42nd president told 1,000 Autotask Community Live 2017 attendees that IT executives must respond forcefully to unanticipated threats while not losing sight of why they got into the business in the first place.

"One of the great imperatives of any leader is to continue to pursue the vision while dealing with the incoming fire," Clinton said Monday at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: Autotask Finds MSPs Grappling With More Endpoints, Data Security Challenges]

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Clinton expects that the world will continue grappling with both the positive and negative consequences of its increased physical and virtual interdependence. And the IT services industry will be right in the middle of that battle, Clinton said.

"It creates an enormous opportunity for you to do what you're doing, and do it largely anonymously," Clinton said. "Your business is built to operate on unfamiliar ground, because things are always changing."

Clinton said that several decisions made during the second term of his presidency – which ran from 1997 to 2001 – have had an enormous impact on where the IT industry it today. Chief among those, Clinton said, was his decision to take GPS out of the realm of the Defense Department's research arm and make it available to everyone.

This decision has benefited the public in both routine ways such as easily figuring out how to get to a location, Clinton said, as well as spectacular ways such as finding bodies sitting under the rubble after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. But at the same time, Clinton said GPS has also been a useful tool for terrorist organizations.

"Every new advance that empowers people can be used for good or ill," Clinton said. "The more interdependent we become, the more potential there is for doing amazingly positive things, and the more potential there is for taking advantage of the negative potential of the same kind of empowerment."

Organization should task diverse, cooperative groups with address complex challenges, Clinton said, as they routinely deliver a better performance than heterogeneous groups or lone geniuses.

The private sector typically does better than the public sector at continuously examining the systems it has in place, Clinton said. For instance, Clinton said an IT company that stores stuff in the cloud would proactively think about how to secure it, how to get the information back, what to do if someone gets rid of the information, and what to do if a virus attacks both the primary and backup systems.

"It's amazing how many systems that are public in nature are continuously unexamined," Clinton said. "You don't have that luxury with what you do."

The IT industry can also play a major role in extending opportunity to people and places that have not benefited from technological change, Clinton said. For instance, Clinton said the counties that voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 general election account for just 36 percent of America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

"Small towns in rural America feel left out and left behind," Clinton said. "If we just get over thinking anyone that disagrees with us belongs in a mental institution or a jail, it will be an exciting, exciting journey."

The former president praised social media for enabling people to relay information about important political and social issues at a lower cost, but noted that it's susceptible to invasion by the Russians and others.

"It's an instrument of empowerment, but it's also a seething instrument of resentment," Clinton said. And there's no Pinocchio test for everything you read."

Although the amount of information available to citizens has increased exponentially, Clinton said the public's ability to put that information into a digestible order and act on it had gone down, not up. But social media isn't going anywhere, Clinton said, meaning we need to figure out both how to make it better and how to ring alarm bells when it's gone awry.

"The people who would like to see the end of democracy are happy to blur the line between fact and fiction, and opinion and established evidence, " Clinton said. "Facebook and Google facing are facing a little grilling for knowing they let a lot of these fake Russian news sites pollute the atmosphere."

KC Computer Support took Clinton's challenge of spending more time thinking about what's going on around the corner to heart, according to President Tom Noon.

"As smaller MSPs, it's easy to get stuck in the day-to-day," said Noon, who cited conferences as a key way he gets away from the minutiae and conducts broader industry research.

Noon sees security investments as a key way the channel can contribute to making technology a force for good rather than a force for ill. Solution providers are beginning to extend a more robust security line card to their clients as enterprise-grade technology becomes increasingly affordable to small business customers, Noon said.