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Local accelerators, Accenture leaders focus on regulation, elections, diversity in tech

Margie Manning

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IT executives and business leaders will be vigilant about the 2020 U.S. presidential election and what the outcome will mean for industry regulation, according to a new report from CompTIA.

The organization’s ““IT Industry Outlook 2020” includes 10 trends to watch next year. The St. Pete Catalyst has been exploring those trends, and reporting on what local tech leaders say about them.

The November election will cast a spotlight on tech’s integration with society. Debate in Washington and around the country already has begun with respect to the responsibilities of some companies in the IT sector, CompTIA said. Seven in 10 firms in the business of selling technology — most of them small- and mid-sized businesses — fear that a negative perception of the industry is gaining momentum, according to the report.

Ken Evans

Playing a blame game isn’t the answer, said Ken Evans, accelerator managing director of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in St. Petersburg.

“Blaming Facebook or Google or pointing fingers at a particular platform and saying they’re wrong or they’re evil, isn’t getting to the issues behind it. If you are picking out a player, you are missing the point,” Evans said. “The point should be the policy. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Look at the platforms and say there are privacy concerns that we need to address as an industry. There is some self-policing they can do, but there’s probably a little bit on the edge that we can attack more formally.”

For instance, some ideas of anonymity online are outdated, Evans said. Technology companies should emulate the “know your customer” standards in the banking industry, he said.

“Some of these platforms that are big megaphones for good and bad ideas. There needs to be some type of a ‘know your customer’ scenario, especially when something is held up as a source of news, whether it is healthcare sites that talk about miracle cures, or people with political agendas. There needs to be something that is a little more in your face to say here’s the background on the source, and some responsibility on the platform to say we’re not sure about the source of this and to block it on the platform,” Evans said. “It’s not that you can block it from everywhere … but if you are a major platform, I think you have to shut it down.”

For many who work in technology, the potential for increased government regulation is a concern. They fear too much regulation could restrain growth, while deregulation could spur it, the CompTIA report said.

Brian Deming

Big companies are most concerned. They’re the ones talking to Congress about privacy and data issues, said Brian Deming, co-founder and former president of Tribridge, a Tampa software and cloud services firm that sold to DXC Technology (NYSE: DX) in 2017.

“In general, regulation isn’t typically good for startups,” said Deming, now chairman of the board of Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit that houses and services young technology companies. “The government by its nature is big and slow-moving compared to a tech startup. They’re always trying to react to what’s happening in the industry reactively, not pro-actively. Most entrepreneurs would tell you they’re not thinking that much about it. They know they have a great idea, they will build that idea, and the regulations typically will start to catch up with them later rather than in the early stages.”

Linda Olson, president and CEO, Tampa Bay Wave

For startups, the bigger concern is having a level playing field, said Linda Olson, Wave’s president and CEO.

“These startups cannot go to Washington, D.C., and lobby. You don’t want the bigger companies to be influencing regulations that may create an unfair bias towards the bigger companies,” Olson said.

Sometime, regulations can create opportunities for innovation, the Wave leaders said, citing Scott Price, now the CEO of Tampa cybersecurity company A-LIGN. Price earlier co-founded SAS 70 Solutions, which was created to deal with the challenges businesses faced in complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations.

The technology industry also has been under the microscope for its lack of a diverse workforce, according to CompTIA.

Stuart Brown

Leading tech firms, including Microsoft, Google and Accenture, have made a commitment to diversity and inclusion, “not because someone mandated it, but because we recognize that without that diversity and inclusion, we will not be the powerful force in the tech industry that we want to be to drive change,” said Stu Brown, Accenture managing director and Tampa office lead. “Innovation and diversity to me are tied hand in hand.”

There also will be a marked increase in demand for skill diversity, the report said. Companies will look for workers with expertise across infrastructure, software development, cybersecurity and data, as well as for tech professionals who can speak the language of business.

“Welcome to Accenture’s world,” Brown said. “We’re not a technology company. We don’t make things. We bring solutions to our clients … You need to be both technology-relevant and be a storyteller at the same time.”

While STEM fields are very important, there’s also a role for workers with liberal arts degrees. “When you look at artificial intelligence and machine learning and the ability to bring logic and diversity of thought into how technology will decide, it’s really important to have philosophy majors and psychology majors and logic majors in these conversations.”

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