Monday, November 23,
By Ben Mattlin
Before 2006, information-technology innovators had no
efficient way to share news affecting their industry. IT solution providers, software developers, technology resellers, trade
associations, user groups, consumers, related businesses and myriad others who care about the future of innovation needed
a reliable stream of up-to-date information about workforce developments, educational trends, shifts in the political climate
and other issues that influence the sector.
“There are millions of people and hundreds of thousands
of companies around the world who benefit from a healthy, competitive IT ecosystem,” explains Tom Murphy, director of
communications for citizenship and community affairs at Microsoft Corp. “Unfortunately, they have not always had a voice
in policy discussions that might impact their businesses and the very future of technology.”
To assist partners and other organizations and individuals
with these issues, Microsoft created a new online network, Voices for Innovation – a virtual network where participants
could come together to learn, connect and engage on issues of importance to their businesses.
“VFI was started to give this community the opportunity
to be more engaged in public policy discussions that may affect its future [and] to express their views,” Murphy says.
Microsoft provided the technical infrastructure, including
a Web site (www.voicesforinnovation.org). Then VFI members themselves took over, setting the agenda and spearheading a variety
“First and foremost, VFI is about enabling the
community,” says Murphy. “Along with peer-to-peer networking there is a lot of activity in the area of education
For example, VFI recently hosted a tutorial to provide
small businesses with advice about government stimulus funding for IT development.
VFI also provides members with a means to advocate for
the economic growth of the IT sector, addressing an ever-changing list of key issues that can influence members’ businesses
and careers, as well as the broader technology industry. It supports innovation and promotes public policies that maintain
a fair and level playing field. One way is by making available direct interaction with relevant government officials.
“VFI encourages IT professionals, including Microsoft
partners, to participate in local policy debates and engage with their elected officials to ensure that there is a pro-innovation
policy environment that supports economic growth,” says Murphy. “Unless government officials fully appreciate
the broader IT ecosystem, decisions could be made that might potentially harm IT businesses and also negatively impact local
economic opportunities. On the other hand, if government officials do understand, they can positively impact IT businesses
and the local economic opportunities that those businesses provide.”
The group is dedicated to the notion that IT innovation
generates positive repercussions for the global economy – by boosting productivity, generating jobs and empowering businesses.
Today, just three years after it was launched, VFI boasts
more than 10,000 members and growing.
“That’s a fantastic achievement in itself,”
notes Murphy. “But ultimately, the success of VFI is about having an active, strong and engaged membership that gets
real value from its involvement.”
Part of the challenge from here is keeping up with a
sector that’s always in flux. “The world of technology is constantly changing. Innovation is at the center of
that,” says Murphy. “The mission of VFI, however, remains the same: provide a forum where technology professionals,
business leaders and other interested parties can discuss how to promote innovation and economic growth.”
So far, the only surprise has been how quickly VFI caught
on. “The passion and commitment of the members has validated our decision to provide the infrastructure for learning
about and discussing these issues,” says Murphy.
To take it to the next step, VFI must remain relevant
and useful to its membership. Microsoft is monitoring its development. “As long as members continue to get value from
their participation, and we expect they will, the community will grow and prosper,” predicts Murphy.
The need for a vital IT community is more important than
ever, in Murphy’s view. “Innovation creates value in our economy,” he emphasizes. “From how companies
innovate in business operations and service delivery, to innovation in other sectors such as science, healthcare and education,
there are incredible opportunities which can help address the current macroeconomic challenges.”
Murphy cites the merging of powerful software with the
benefits of services delivered over the Internet to show how businesses are using technology to drive growth. “Then
there is the convergence of PCs with mobile devices and TVs, providing consumers with a connected digital experience on the
move and at home,” he adds.
IT innovation will continue to be a major driver in creating
social and economic value, he concludes. Says Murphy: “VFI is part of ensuring that we have the pro-innovation policy
environment that supports that innovation and the subsequent economic growth.”
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