Can a state whose identity as the "Crossroads of America" in the 20th century maintain that distinction in the 21st century? Can Indiana, with numerous railroads and highways passing through it, find a competitive advantage in a world that increasingly bypasses rails and roads in favor of the virtual marketplace?
Absolutely-if it is willing once again to serve as a central hub for the thoroughfares so important to the virtual marketplace and purposefully sets out to build them.
Not so long ago, it was believed that, to create a competitive advantage, you should develop a new idea and keep it secret until you could take that idea to market.
However, over the past half-century, we have seen a shift in this paradigm. As a result of our growing reliance on dataintensive research, we have learned that true advances often require the sharing of information-one innovator sharing data and ideas with his peers, who then share with others. By working separately and collectively, they build on one another's ideas to achieve innovation.
Such information sharing has led to advances in a number of disciplines, from life sciences to logistics, from chemical engineering to agriculture, and has played a key role in such specific endeavors as the mapping of the human genome and generating climate models that help farmers improve crop yields.
As information sharing has become a basic component of scientific inquiry and innovation, there is an increasing need for the development of what's known as cyberinfrastructure-the system of computers, networks, transmission lines, software, databases, experts and facilities that make possible the high-speed distribution of information.
This "new" cyberinfrastructure isn't that different from traditional transportation infrastructure. Like roads, rails and utility services, it exists to aid in the distribution of commodities, pulling people and places closer together and generally supporting a higher standard of living.
What does this mean to Indiana? If we aggressively develop cyberinfrastructure, we will once again become a key hub in the process of distributing commodities across a national and even global marketplace.
The good news is, this process already has begun. Since 2001, with the advent of the I-Light network linking Purdue University, Indiana University and IUPUI, our state's major universities have been working to develop and improve cyberinfrastructure while setting the stage for future linkages to the global optical fiber network.
Most recently, Lilly Endowment Inc. committed grant money to the establishment of the Purdue Cyberinfrastructure Center. The center, at Discovery Park in West Lafayette, should help Purdue and the state become a key hub in the development of cyberinfrastructure and, as a result, attract and spin off business ventures, create jobs and draw more federal funding to the state.
A well-developed cyberinfrastructure will help expand activities in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics. Information technology is the pervasive enabler for the economic sectors critical to Indiana's future.
Imagine for a moment what might have happened to Indiana if we hadn't become the nexus, first of railroads and later of interstate highways. What if those vital arteries of commerce instead had crisscrossed in Louisville or Chicago? What would Indiana be today if we had not embraced our opportunity to become the "Crossroads of America?"
Now imagine what will happen if we miss the opportunity to become the "Cyber Crossroads of America." I hope you'll join me in applauding the efforts being made to put Indiana at the forefront of cyberinfrastructure development. That work will be what positions us to grow and prosper well into the future.
Carter is president and CEO of Techpoint, a statewide technology trade group.