It's long been an open secret of the tech industry that there are just too many trade organizations representing the industry. Many in tech government affairs even don't know what all of them do and where they are complimentary or redundant. This week, in his Washington Post K Street Confidential column, lobbying industry expert Jeffrey Birnbaum took this issue on....
How can we know for sure that the capital is too cluttered with tech organizations.
Here's a hint: A senior Bush administration official has been forced to sit down regularly around a big table with 14 or so tech representatives to figure out what -- if anything -- the industry really wants and cares about.
Here's another: A couple of U.S. senators whose committee assignments require them to work closely with tech companies find it necessary to keep a cheat sheet listing the key groups so they can remember who's who.
Like so many associations, these groups like to refer to themselves by their initials, which, of course, can be maddening to the uninitiated. The next time someone starts jabbering to you about AEA or BSA or CEA, don't despair. Nod knowingly and just assume that the person is talking about one of those too-many tech associations that even insiders can't keep track of. Nine times out of 10 you'll be right.
Incoming TechNet CEO Lezlee Westine notes in the article....
"I would not be surprised if over the next few years that there might be some consolidation among them,"
Which would be a good thing for clarity of message, coordination and power of punch. The reality is that many of the organizations actually don't compete with each other for members or on issues. But, like in the business world, complimentary organizations are often the best candidates for mergers. At the very least, we in the industry could do a better job in collaborating together. TechNet's recent teamings with the excellent lobbying team at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) is a great example of how we can succeed by partnering more.
To us, the tech industry trade group alphabet soup reminds us of what happened in the former Soviet Republics after they gained their independence. Democracy was stifled for forty-plus years in those countries, so when freedom's sunshine suddenly reigned, they suddenly blossomed from having one political party to 27 overnight. Each party could make a good case on how they were different and added unique value, but it was clear that this model was unsustainable and ineffecient.
Still, we're not advocating that the tech industry have one organization represent it. Or two. Or five. We are simply not the movie industry where five companies equal the MPAA or the automobile industry where you only need three fingers to count significant membership. Nor do our issues magically align from company to company or tech sector to tech sector. eBay, Yahoo! and Cisco are based within a few miles of each other and are often looped together as "tech leaders", but their individual policy priorities are dramatically different. And, it , frankly will take maturing on the policymaker's side to understand that while the industry can be a unified force on pushing for the best environment to innovate, the collective tech industry will soon be as broad in scope and focus as the members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce currently are.
After all, tech is becoming ubiquitous in business, entertainment and daily lives. There aren't simply boundries that contain it much anymore. Therefore, the policy issues that will impact tech will come from more and more angles and need specialized focus. An umbrella organization simply couldn't effectively lead on RFID privacy issues one day, China trade policy the next day, and mobile content regulation the next.
As the Wal-Marts, SBCs and Citibanks of the world consider themselves as so reliant on advanced technologies for their competitive advandtage, also consider how these "traditional" forces will have an impact in policy circles on driving technology policy on their own and via the trade groups of their choice. Some day not so far off, "tech policy" may simply become "business policy."