By Chase C. Stockon
When the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF) was formed over 10 years ago by a small group of entrepreneurs and supporters, technology in the Tampa Bay area looked very different than it does today.
Those same entrepreneurs have grown their companies into market leading companies, while other major national brands have relocated to the area attracted by our business climate with no state income tax and, of course, our warm-weather climate.
With the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit coming to Tampa this week, this is yet another tangible sign that demonstrates the growing importance of this region to the global tech community at large.
Tampa will serve host to IBM – the world’s largest IT company – and more than 4,000 business leaders and practitioners in marketing, ecommerce, procurement and supply chain from around the globe. They will all converge on Tampa eager to learn more about how technology can drive their organizations forward and help them make the most out of every single engagement with their customers.
But while the Tampa Bay area boasts one of the fastest growing tech sectors in the country, we still face fundamental challenges that many other businesses face around the world. Chief among those problems: the training, attracting and retaining the IT talent needed to make our community continue to thrive and prosper.
The fact remains that the Tampa Bay area still struggles in the shadow of more known technology hubs like Silicon Valley when it comes to attracting new talent and keeping students in the region after graduation. While Florida is ranked No. 3 overall in technology jobs according to leading IT industry association CompTIA, a recent study shows that almost 4,000 technology positions are vacant in our area. Our tech growth is outpacing our workforce.
We are in the middle of a critical time for the Tampa technology community. We want to grow, and do it quickly, but we’re also living with the reality that we need to do more with less. At the same time, digital, mobile and social innovations are changing the business world at dizzying pace. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up the pace and do it all at once.
That’s why IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit this week is timely for our region. It is an indicator that all businesses realize that they can’t afford to stand still and are finding other ways to hurdle over the IT hiring and skills problem. With maturing platforms like cloud computing, our member educational institutions and companies like IBM can show us how business managers on the front lines can deploy technology solutions on their own with less IT help to drive business success. Tech skills will always be critical to any business, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a showstopper for resource-strained organizations that need the technology tools to react to fast moving corporate trends.
Just a few years ago, these advanced solutions might have been out of reach. For small or mid-sized businesses, the solutions were too costly and complex. And even for large organizations, business leaders faced an array of hoops and hurdles, from the IT department to procurement and beyond, to get the solutions they need. But today, line of business managers can help themselves with hundreds of cloud-based services across the commerce value chain – from marketing and merchandizing to procurement and supply chain – that they can quickly plug into their company’s infrastructure with little technical help and deliver immediate impact for businesses.
If we take one lesson from IBM’s presence here in Tampa this month, it’s that every moment of interaction with our customers truly matters to our businesses. In today’s hyper-connected era, customers expect immediate gratification, in real time, all the time. The moment the customer doesn’t feel valued, it’s easier than ever to find another business that will cater to their needs. Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to make your organization essential to them. This applies to you, your business and across the bay area to the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.