Breakaway 2012 officially opened in Vegas this morning with an update on CompTIA’s activities on behalf of the IT industry, a unique perspective on how innovation occurs and two compelling, real-life stories on the positive impact of technology.
CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux opened the morning session with a look at where the association is headed in four core areas – education, certification, advocacy and philanthropy. Much of what CompTIA will do in the coming months and years will help IT channel companies better engage with their customers, according to Thibodeaux.
“The rate of new business development is slowing, so the amount of business you need to drive from existing customers will be more important,” he said. “But you will need more innovative ways to do so.”
IT channel firms need to enhance their ability to look at their customers’ business and determine how technology can help them to be more successful. Thibodeaux cited two examples – machine-to-machine technologies, such as pay-at-the-pump gas stations and DVD rentals from kiosks; and big data and analytics.
“It doesn’t have to be the strict domain of big companies,” he said. “There are options for all sizes of business to do advanced analytics. You can go into a customer and credibly help them organize and sift through their data to drive more business.”
To do this successfully, and for the long term, IT firms will have to come up with new strategies and tactics for recruiting the next-gen IT workforce.
“Your ability to understand how to maximize their capabilities in your environment is the key to your success,” Thibodeaux said. “Not only will they be your customers, but they will be your staff.”
How Can the Government Help?
Thibodeaux also outlined three public policy priorities for CompTIA:
- “Reboot” the momentum that was behind the health IT movement and the shift to electronic medical records. “We’re not even close to the thresholds that were set a few years ago,” he said.
- Encourage the federal government to release more unlicensed wireless spectrum. “Wi-Fi has given us the ability to connect almost anywhere and the benefits that have come from that have been immense,” said Thibodeaux. “Spectrum with better capabilities and capacity is available, but not yet released by government.”
- Champion a national standard for data breach. The patchwork of state laws with different thresholds and liability issues make it difficult for companies to do business in multiple states. A national standard would “create a framework for everyone to operate under. It will clear up a lot of confusion for consumers, too.”
In the philanthropy area, Thibodeaux encouraged attendees to get involved in efforts to bring the nation’s military veterans into the IT workforce. He noted that CompTIA’s Troops to Tech Careers program is training veterans, and that this year 7,200 veterans have taken CompTIA certification exams and more than 5,700 have been certified.
“They really need mentorship from people in the industry,” he said. “They have tremendous skill sets that can be used.
Faces of IT Opportunity
Breakaway attendees also heard from two individuals whose lives have been changed for the better by their interest in technology.
Brant Backes, a military veteran and former worker in the manufacturing sector, related his heartfelt story of how 18 months of unemployment turned around when he was accepted into the IT-Ready Apprentice Program in Minneapolis. The program is an initiative of CompTIA’s philanthropic arm, the Creating IT Futures Foundation. After eight weeks of training, Backes earned his CompTIA A+ certification and today he holds a paid IT internship with a major healthcare company.
Michael Weymouth, the 14-year-old founder and CEO of TechWizard, a Melville, N.Y. tech consulting and service business, explained how his business grew from his interest in technology and desire for a summer project that would raise money.
Creative Thinking and Innovation
In the conference’s business keynote address, best-selling author Steven Berlin Johnson shared his intriguing insights on the history of innovation and what pushes people and organizations to more creative thinking.
More often than not in the history of disruptive ideas, the “eureka moment” is a myth, according to Johnson.
“These ideas often stay in hunch form for months, years and even decades until they crystalize into action,” he said.
“Look at what your customers and users are doing with the technology you provided them,” he advised attendees. “Let your users do the innovation for you.”
The best ideas are often “cobbled together from the spare parts of other ideas” and the result of “diverse environments and diverse thinking.”
“An idea is a network and good ideas involve larger and more diverse networks of people,” Johnson concluded. “Chance favors the connected mind.”