Does a new association to promote digital innovation have Amazon’s fingerprints all over it?

The Alliance for Digital Innovation is expected to launch this week with a goal of promoting adoption of commercial technologies in the federal sector.

Amazon Web Services is taking its ball and going home.

Amazon is unhappy with how its point of view around electronic commerce, cloud computing and digital innovation more broadly is being represented on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch by existing industry associations and organizations. So it’s leading the effort to create a new organization.

Federal News Radio has learned AWS is the driving force behind the soon-to-be-launched Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI), a new industry organization that many in the federal contractor community believe will be made up primarily of Amazon partners and resellers.

Rich Beutel, a former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee lead staff member and principal behind the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), at least at the staff level, will lead ADI. Beutel lobbied for AWS for the last three years, earning about $250,000, according to the Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Database.

Beutel stopped working directly for AWS this month, but did receive a final payment of $20,000 for work done in the first quarter of 2018.

“The Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI) is a coalition of customer-focused commercial companies helping to shape government IT modernization efforts through advocacy and thought leadership efforts,” according to a one-page brochure obtained by Federal News Radio. “Citizens deserve the same technological experience in their civic lives that they have come to expect in their personal and professional lives, and government mission owners deserve fast and unimpeded access to commercial technologies. ADI members are engaging government leaders and policymakers to advocate for citizen-centric commercial innovation to enable a productive digital experience and faster access to emerging technologies by mission owners.”

While the brochure doesn’t mention AWS by name, when you look at the properties of the one-page document, it shows Beutel as the author and “Amazon.com” as the company name — meaning Beutel created the document while lobbying for Amazon and the document was created on a computer owned by Amazon.

Multiple emails to AWS and Beutel seeking comment on ADI were not returned.

Industry sources say ADI is pursuing mostly AWS partners with a goal of showing lawmakers that advocating for a certain legislative or policy position isn’t just coming from Amazon.

Industry observers say the decision to start ADI comes at a key time for AWS with the commercial e-marketplace effort at the General Services Administration and the commercial cloud program at the Defense Department just getting started.

“Amazon doesn’t play well with others,” said one industry source, who requested anonymity in order to talk about a competitor. “Their agenda is very focused on their needs. On a lot of policy issues, vendors have to be collaborative and Amazon doesn’t always take that approach. They want it their way 100 percent and if not, they do a good job in making it uncomfortable for others, and even when they do agree, there are concerns they undercut the agreed upon position.”

Another industry expert said frequently AWS is the outlier and is driving a dynamic of conflicting interests in the narrative.

“My sense of where they are going and what they are talking about is creating a different voice to come in and say other groups don’t speak for [the] government IT sector,” the expert said. “They  want to be able to tell Congress, ‘Look at who we are speaking with and we speak for the sector.’ That is direction they are moving in.”

Amazon is a member of several existing industry organizations already, including the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), the Professional Services Council (PSC), TechNet, the Cloud Security Alliance and the Industry Advisory Council (IAC).

Still, the move to create a new organization or association when there is disagreement in direction with other associations is not unheard of. Sources says the Business Software Alliance emerged from a disagreement among industry more than 20 years ago. Other organizations that haven’t been IT focused created sub-organizations to address their sector’s IT challenges and needs as well, including the National Defense Industrial Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But to many observers, what is different this time is AWS using its strength in the federal market to push its already strong standing.

“We understand what they are trying to do is create a voice that is supportive of the AWS perspective. AWS has not found consensus over the last few years with other groups, so as I understand it, they are trying to create a counter voice for some of those things,” said the second industry expert. “Just about everything AWS has pursued as a business opportunity, the e-commerce portal or JEDI cloud at DoD, multiple groups are posing questions to policy stakeholders about how they are being formed. AWS pushed back and said they don’t need to answer those questions or those questions have been answered so let’s move on, or there isn’t a lot of veracity in the answers from government.”

The first industry source said while it’s true to some extent that every company pushes their own positions, few have gone to the extent AWS seems to be heading toward.

“The dynamic is not the same because we are in interesting times. AWS is a dominant cloud and e-commerce marketplace provider with monopolistic power in many ways,” the source said. “That’s creating a different dynamic and they want more, and others are pushing back creating tension. I don’t think the government recognizes that tension yet.”

The one-page brochure promotes the benefits of ADI as education and advocacy.

“ADI identifies and creates opportunities for dialogue between and amongst government leaders and policy stakeholders on the benefits of government adoption of commercial solutions and citizen-centric methodologies,” the document states. “ADI advocates for the enactment of policies and legislation that promote and enhance public sector adoption of commercial solutions that will drive broader digital transformation, innovation, rapid and iterative modernization, and improved security to modernize the delivery of enhanced citizen services.”

It’s unclear how much it will cost to belong to ADI, and whether it will be open to non-AWS partners.

The industry experts were unsure how much of a threat ADI will be to other associations or organizations, and details about the alliance’s plans remain vague.

But the fact that AWS seems to be the driving force behind it likely begins a new competition for attention on Capitol Hill. And at a time when the federal government is just gaining momentum for IT modernization.

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