The Information Technology Industry Council made a big splash in the federal community Tuesday by adding muscle to its lobbying and policy efforts.
ITI grabbed four top executives from a rival association and launched a new public sector practice.
TechAmerica lost in one fell swoop Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president global public sector; Erica McCann, manager of procurement policy; Carol Henton, vice president of state and local government division; and Pam Walker, senior director for homeland security. All four took similar roles with ITI’s new IT Alliance for Public Sector organization, which will focus on technology and acquisition issues.
“As a member organization, we work really hard to reflect the priorities over our companies. Trey and his entire team bring a depth of expertise in an area that’s of increasing importance to the technology sector,” said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of ITI, during a press briefing with reporters Tuesday. “There’s some very public examples of where procurement is very important. This is a continuation of what we have been doing over the last few years.”
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He added ITI has taken similar steps to increase its knowledge base in the areas of international issues, taxes and privacy.
But what’s different about this influx of expertise is the who and the how many. It’s also one of the few instances in recent memory when an entire public sector lobbying and policy team left one association and went to a rival one in the federal community.
ITI has more than 50 companies as members, including VMWare, Oracle, Microsoft and Google.
TechAmerica’s membership seems to have drifted into the IT and professional services areas more than traditional technology giants.
Hodgkins said he decided to move to ITI because it presented him with a new opportunity.
“There are some differences, and some of the perspectives are slightly different flavors from the folks we have worked with in the past. That’s one of the things we will be working to carry those voices into the public sector,” he said. “We’ll also be working to reach out to the companies you are used to dealing with, I’m used to dealing with and make sure there’s a seat at the table for them as well.”
Lack of resources, support drove the decision
But multiple sources familiar with the inner workings with TechAmerica say there’s something more going on than just a new opportunity that caused Hodgkins and his team to leave.
Sources, who requested anonymity in order to speak more candidly, say the association’s president, Shawn Osborne, isn’t supportive or doesn’t understand how critical the public policy piece is to the association’s efforts.
One example is the fact that with Hodgkins and his team’s exit, eight senior public sector officials have left TechAmerica this year. Jennifer Kerber, Kevin Richards, Kristine Berman and Chris Wilson all moved on to other positions in the community and haven’t been replaced.
One source says the four public sector experts saw a better opportunity to rebuild a division with support and resources, where as TechAmerica didn’t have either.
Others say there has been a growing frustration over Osborne’s leadership. Sources say he came in and made several needed changes, such as streamlining and consolidating the association’s operations. But he isn’t a policy guy, didn’t have an interest in learning about policy and therefore wasn’t giving it the resources needed.
“While I am disappointed with the departures of the former staff, TechAmerica’s expertise and commitment to the public sector group of member companies remains unchanged,” said Robin Lineberger, chairman of TechAmerica’s Public Sector Board in an email statement. “As members, we are seeing a fresh new approach to engaging us in TechAmerica. Hard decisions have been made and real change instituted, which has meant a more robust return on our investment.”
Many of TechAmerica’s top executives are on the West Coast this week for the West Coast Vision Conference, the Big Data Road Show in Silicon Valley, and the David Packard medal of achievement and awards event.
TechAmerica sent a note out to its members late Tuesday in reaction to the staff departures.
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“This move came as a complete surprise to the board and management, and we couldn’t be more disappointed in the way it was handled by the departing staff,” said Dennis Stolkey, chairman of the TechAmerica Board of Directors, in an email to members that was obtained by Federal News Radio. “But I want to be clear that we remain committed to TechAmerica and Shawn Osborne as the president and CEO of the organization. The vision of TechAmerica remains exciting and innovative. We knew that changing how an organization steeped in the traditional ways of Washington would not be without challenges, but TechAmerica has brought forward incredible new programs that have afforded members the opportunity to engage like never before. We are evaluating our courses of action and will discuss the specific plans with the executive committee, the boards and the membership shortly.”
Focusing on similar areas
In the meantime, ITI not only hired these four experts, but promises to grow the public sector organizations.
One source says TechAmerica’s public sector organization was the most valuable part of the association. ITI and others have tried several times over the years to merge or buy that part of TechAmerica.
One source said Hodgkins and his team were the best in the country at understanding the issues and supporting member companies. In fact, TechAmerica’s former organization, the IT Association of America actually put ITI’s public sector group out of business 15 or 20 years ago because they couldn’t deliver value to their members.
Now, ITI brings in ready-made experts and plans to expand the number of people in the public sector organization.
In the meantime, Henton will lead the effort on state, local and education marketplace.
Hodgkins said ITI plans to expand its resources there as many state and localities are rebounding out of economic downturn and are looking to make investments in technology. He said she also will work on contracting issues.
Hodgkins will manage the other two newcomers with a focus on the federal market.
“I see two major areas that companies offering technology into the public sector focus on right now, which is acquisition reform,” he said. “We use a horse-and-buggy era funding process and a Cold War era IT planning process to go buy leading edge technologies that can change daily. We have to find a way to change that equation so taxpayers get best value, constituents get what they need from their government and government employees and agencies get the technologies and capabilities to succeed in their mission.”
Hodgkins said a second area will be around convergence of technologies, including mobile, cloud, big data, cybersecurity and social media.
Overall, ITI’s new public sector organization will focus on federal civilian, homeland security and national security markets.
“There will continue to be Homeland Security’s implementation in a regulatory fashion around cybersecurity that we will be heavily involved with and watching, expanding our capabilities and knowledge and expertise that ITI has brought to that issue in the past with Pamela Walker managing that portfolio,” he said. “We’ll also be looking at identity management both as a component of the immigration bill and more broadly in the federal government. In the aftermath of the Navy Yard tragedy, the issue has arisen again around access to government facilities and the use of biometrics in things like the HSPD-12 card. Pam also will look at general Homeland Security issues like the authorization bill and things like that as Congress wraps up its business for the year.”
As for the future of TechAmerica, that remains unclear. Companies are renewing their memberships now so the real bellwether will be how many vendors renew. One source said companies that deal mainly in the public sector make up about two- thirds of all TechAmerica’s members, so with dues ranging from $2,500 to more than $100,000, a mass exodus of companies could mean much tougher times ahead for the association.
Sources say TechAmerica needs to reassures its member companies by making quality hires in the public sector organization quickly.