The Influence Peddlers

By Tom Field, CIO |  Career

And yet, as the tobacco and gun industries have proven, a big pocketbook and a
persistent message also provide great powers of persuasion. With these capabilities,
even the smaller IT trade associations wield great influence over lawmakers. Consider
the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), a Washington, D.C.-based trade
group of just 30 members (the ITAA, in contrast, boasts 11,000 direct and affiliate
members). Yet, the ITIC's membership includes HP Co. and Microsoft plus a $3 million
public policy budget earmarked for pushing the group's political agenda. Rhett Dawson,
president of the ITIC, says big-name members bring instant credibility when it's time
to discuss the group's primary e-commerce and intellectual property issues. "We're
relatively small, but because of [our members'] size, we have a presence in Washington.
They give us a lot more agility, visibility and people on the ground," Dawson says. "I
find that if we can get our message and participation together, then we can usually
succeed at what we want to do in Washington."

When Worlds Divide

If CIOs quietly support the vendors' positions on such issues as encryption and e-
commerce taxation, then, fine, they've got friends in Washington. But what happens when
CIOs and vendors disagree?

Such a dispute arose in early 1999, when IT professor Kappelman, representing SIM
on the ITAA's Y2K Task Force, came out against the Y2K Act. Unwilling to tie CIOs'
hands with litigation limits, Kappelman knew he was going against the ITAA's vendor-
friendly grain, yet his minority opinion was tolerated -- until he spoke his mind to
Congress. After that, he was barred from task force meetings. "They didn't mind if I
disagreed privately," Kappelman says, "but as soon as I went public, that was it."

The ITAA's Miller defends the Kappelman ban. "Once he made it clear that he was
totally opposed to our strategy, we did what we'd do to any dues-paying member: we
excluded him," Miller says. "You can't have the fox invited to the chicken meetings. If
we did that, then anything we discussed could potentially end up in The Washington
Post
the next day."

But if it's squelched, then how can the minority voice be heard? This is
Kappelman's concern. "The vendors are the only voice; the customer has none," says
Kappelman, who fears the ramifications of lawmakers deciding IT issues solely on vendor
input. "If the voice they've been hearing tells them [a position] is right, and no
other voices are being heard, then eventually it's going to look right to them."

Opportunities to Influence

As election time nears, Internet regulation, e-commerce taxation and digital privacy
will be huge issues among incumbents and challengers. And with these lively debates
come prime opportunities for CIOs to be heard.

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