The region is feeling the Amazon ripple effect

Amazon’s HQ2 announcement is sending waves of new tech activity through the region, and companies across the area are starting to take advantage. To get a feel for how the region is feeling about the announcement, and to discuss a forthcoming survey on the tech space’s effect on government, we spoke with Michael Hoffman, president of GovernmentCIO Media and Research.

ABERMAN: You recently have been working on a significant survey measuring sentiment for technology consumers here in the region. Tell me a little bit about that, and how you’re hoping to communicate that to the market more generally.

HOFFMAN: At GovernmentCIO Media and Research, our mission is really focused on sharing best practices across different government agencies, really taking a look at any time where government and technology intersect. So, as part of that mission, we’ve really made an initiative in 2019 to do more partnerships with universities here in the D.C. region. So, one of them, George Washington University, partnered with us to do personal surveys with over 120 of the government leaders within the technology space. It was really important to us to do them in person. We wanted to sit down and really pick their brains about some of the different challenges and opportunities that exist in this space.

So, our research team was able to do that, meet them there, and we’re working with the data analytics team over at George Washington’s business school to really start to crunch those numbers. Take a look at those different surveys, pick out some of the areas in which some trends can be found. So, some of those might be talking about artificial intelligence, or where some investments are going on in cybersecurity. And it’s been interesting, and we haven’t completed the report yet, but it’s been really interesting where they see some of the trends there. I mentioned AI, but AI didn’t come up that often. They didn’t see that as a near-term opportunity, because not enough of the infrastructure has been put in place when it comes to government agencies. They haven’t laid down the I.T. infrastructure to really take advantage of it there.

And what we wanted to do is look forward, look forward into the next five to 10 years. So, I think that’s been a common topic that’s come up, is there’s a lot of really exciting emerging technologies that are coming to government right now, but they really need to start to do the blocking and tackling first, to really take advantage of some of those new technologies that come through.

ABERMAN: So, that report will be out sometime in August. And they’ll just be able to find it by going to governmentcio.com. Meanwhile, you mentioned getting technology, and I think that a trend that really concerns a lot of us here in the region is whether or not the government is really committed to innovation. With Amazon coming here, and with other private companies here bridging the gap between commercial and the urban sector, it continues to be an area that concerns me a lot. What are you seeing? You know, the Obama administration was so committed to it publicly. Has the Trump administration continued to be focused on this? Do you see the same innovation discovery trends we saw, say, two or three years ago?

HOFFMAN: I think so. I think that was a concern of mine as well when the new administration came, but there have been some clear examples where the government, and some of these government agencies, have made that investment, and gone forward with some of the suggestions and recommendations that existed, that were started, I should say, within the Obama administration. I’ll give you a couple examples. One is the U.S. Digital Service. The U.S. Digital Service is a group of developers and really smart folks that are coming from the technology sector, and doing two years at different government agencies, such as Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and really tackling some of those hard problems that have been talked about in those areas. For instance, the release of vets.gov, or I should say what would turn into va.gov, for Veterans Affairs. Really improving the website the veterans are using to gain access to their benefits.

Another example I would say would be, maybe not here local, but I think there’ll be some benefits from it. But the way that the U.S. Army has opened up their futures command down in Austin, Texas. That’s a big deal especially, within the U.S. Army, because you have a four star general down there leading futures command. And within the military rank, rank is everything. It’s both rank and budget. So, by putting the budget down there, giving them a significant budget, putting that headquarters in downtown Austin, Texas, is a real signal to the rest of the military that we really believe in this innovation culture. If we want to keep the U.S. military up to speed with the rest of the world, then we’re going to need to think a little bit outside the box, or outside the base, as some people are saying.

ABERMAN: You speak of technology, I can’t let you go without asking you what you’re seeing with respect to Amazon HQ2. How is it affecting how you’re seeing companies act on your beat?

HOFFMAN: We work with a lot of technology companies, especially ones that are based mainly out in California, or down, like we mentioned, in Austin, Texas. What we’re seeing in some of the meetings there is a real interest in maybe increasing their footprint. I’m talking companies like Microsoft, Pure Storage, Splunk, Symantec, who want to really increase their footprint here in the Washington D.C. region, to match the commitment that, clearly, Amazon has made when it comes to the crossroads between government and technology. I mean, we’ve all seen it. There’s quite a bit of lobbying and legislation coming forward in the future with big tech. I mean, how many times have we seen tech leaders on Capitol Hill talking with members about some of those issues? They want to be able to show a commitment with a footprint here in the D.C. region, and for anybody that owns homes in this area, they can be sure to see a boom in that area as well.

ABERMAN: Well, it’s a really interesting view from the trenches, and certainly it shows that there’s a difference between people assuming that something like an Amazon is going to change the economy, and actually seeing a leading indicator of it. Mike Hoffman, president of GovernmentCIO Media and Research, thanks for joining us.

HOFFMAN: All right. Thank you, Jonathan.

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