Day One at the 2016 CompTIA DC Fly-In: Launching Smart Cities and ECPA Reform

Why should solution providers, vendors and other IT professionals care about what happens in their local and state governments or with their representatives in Washington, DC? A single voice would surely get drowned out with so many ongoing legislative discussions and activities, right? The many solution providers, vendor representatives and other tech professionals who attended the first day of sessions at the CompTIA DC Fly-In would likely disagree. With three highly informative and interactive panel discussions and the attention of some of Washington’s most recognized tech supporters on them, attendees seemed energized and prepared to take action on a number of industry initiatives that could have a major impact on the IT channel.

One of CompTIA’s missions is to give solution providers, vendors and other IT professionals a voice in both state houses and the nation’s capital. The annual DC Fly-In event brings them all together to discuss industry trends and issues, and legislation that could impact their businesses or careers. The two-day meeting commences with presentations and panels covering some of today's hottest IT-related topics.

First up this year was Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy for the Center for Democracy and Technology, who gave an overview of proposed reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Originally passed in 1986, when email and text messaging were still emerging technologies, the current legislation allows law enforcement and government agencies to access this information with a simple subpoena. As Calabrese suggests, “It’s time to bring ECPA reform into the 21st century and require warrants for such data.” With the advent of the cloud and advances in data storage, the existing statutes haven’t kept pace with the technology.

But why should solution providers care? Right now, the regulation is not applied equally in all 50 states, leaving IT businesses unsure of their rights and the rights of their clients. If the IRS shows up and asks for copies of a customer’s records, what do you do? The reformed rules, currently supported by more than 300 Representatives and Senators, would require warrants to access client data and create a clear process, including use of neutral arbiters. These reforms should not be confused with, nor will they limit, national anti-terrorism efforts, which are covered by FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Security Act).

CompTIA members are encouraged to put their weight behind its passage, asking Representatives and Senators to support a clean bill that clarifies the process. Many have already expressed their support, but, this being a major election year with an extremely short Congressional calendar (just 111 days), the ECPA Reform bill will require their immediate attention in order to become the new, clearer law of the land.

Public policy influence on the channel
What else is happening on Capitol Hill that could affect the channel in 2016? With a presidential election in full swing, that question is on most everyone’s mind. The Fly-In provides a great forum for getting answers and the insider insights shared during the three panels sessions was invaluable. From a channel perspective, the 2016 activities in DC could have a lasting impact.

The presidential election
While campaign season is in full swing, the IT industry surprisingly garners few talking points. Other than encryption, where candidates are trying to balance privacy concerns with public safety, the politicians have been very vague on policies. Channel professionals should pay attention to positions on net neutrality, data breach notification and other security matters, as well as their business taxation and technology investment policy proposals.

Tech Workforce: How will the IT industry meet the demand for skilled workers?
Scott Cheney, policy director for pensions, workforce and economic development for Senator Patty Murray, said Washington is looking to add funding to programs that can help companies address skills shortage concerns. “Apprenticeship programs are highly effective, put money in individuals’ pockets and gives them career training.” New bills have been proposed to boost grants to businesses interested in these types of activities. For channel firms experiencing a skills shortage, these programs make great cost-effective options.

Will Markow, senior analyst with Burning Glass Technologies, suggests that miscommunications between educators and employers are partially to blame for the skills shortage. Better planning and information sharing will help avoid “spot trading” on talent and improve career growth opportunities for IT professionals.

Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Based on the panelists opinions, these technologies of the future will require a tremendous amount of support from channel organizations. Reliable, fast internet and wireless technologies will be crucial to the success of each. Information specialists with strong data collection and transmission skills will be in high demand, as will those who can implement and support the numerous components of these complex, connected systems.

Smart cities and IoT rely heavily on interoperability (think integration and solution expertise) and strong data protection. You might be skeptical, but that future isn’t far off. Through the NIST ‘Global City Teams Challenge,’ the federal government is encouraging collaboration on a range of issues from disaster response to energy management to mass transit improvement. The goal is to help communities and businesses connect to improve resource management and quality of life through advances such as IoT or other internet-connected systems. The list has been narrowed to 77 semi-finalist cities, all of which will now compete to be selected as one of the initial five Smart Cities. Opportunities for providers in those cities will include solution design, implementation and support.

The agenda on day one was filled with great channel-oriented discussions. For day two, the discussions moves to the Hill, as attendees meet with their Representatives and Senators to discuss the issues that matter most to small businesses and the IT industry.