Unified Communications Goes to War

Don Tennant

If you've ever thought there needs to be an easier, more convenient way to have your voice heard by your elected representatives at the state and federal levels, you aren't alone. Fortunately, somebody has finally done something about it.


CompTIA, the IT trade association best known for its certification programs, has hooked up with the Technology Councils of North America (TECNA) to launch TechVoice, a website that provides a tool that makes it incredibly easy to contact your state and federal reps. I tried it out, and it's pretty cool. You just enter your zip code, and up pops a list of all the state and federal officials who serve you, along with a Web form you can use to send any of them a message.


TechVoice also serves as an information resource to keep you up to speed on all sorts of policy issues that affect the IT profession, so it's definitely a tech-centric site. But what I found especially appealing is the fact that you can use the tool to contact your reps about any issue that concerns you, whether it has anything to do with technology, the IT profession or not. There's no charge involved, so there's just no reason not to take full advantage of it.


That said, it's an especially helpful tool to address issues relating to technology, since so much pertinent information is available right on the site. Liz Hyman, CompTIA's vice president of public advocacy, has been living and breathing the TechVoice project for nearly a year, so I spoke with her to get a sense of CompTIA's purpose in all of this. Here's a little background she provided:

Part of this is a vision that our CEO Todd Thibodeaux had, in terms of giving a voice to a broader spectrum of the IT and technology community. A lot of attention is given to the top 400 or so manufacturers and vendors out there-and understandably so, when they're creating all kinds of cool technology. But there are tens of thousands of IT solution providers, and folks that are in the IT channel, who have not always been given a voice to speak up on things that matter to them as a small- or medium-size business in the technology field. So we kind of noodled along a few avenues and came up with the TechVoice idea, reached out to TECNA, and we've been working with them to develop this site, which is meant to be a grassroots tool and a one-stop shop for issues that impact the IT industry.

Hyman also provided an overview of the policy issues that top CompTIA's agenda:

We are very much engaged in the discussion about the skills for the 21st century economy. Because CompTIA is a certification provider as well, workforce development and general support for innovation obviously drive a lot of that discussion from our perspective. We also look very closely at issues impacting small- and medium-size businesses, what we call the "SMB tech entrepreneur." And the third basket is what I call "secure and smart IT solutions," which would be things like cyber security, data breaches, privacy, things of that nature. This week we're very focused on what's going on with the 1099 issue, because H.R. 4 is coming up for a vote in the House.

Hyman said TechVoice will also help CompTIA keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening at the state level:

I would not be surprised to see that a lot of the regional tech associations that are involved with us are going to have their own perspectives and touch on these types of issues. I would say the value of TechVoice is not only what's going on at the federal level and getting that out to the thousands of IT solution providers and technology companies across the country, but also learning from our partners about what's going on at the state level that's potentially going to percolate up. You know the old expression, "the states are the laboratories of democracy." I hope that TechVoice gives a bit of that vantage point to the technology issues we're looking at.

I asked Hyman where CompTIA stands on the H-1B visa issue, specifically about whether the cap needs to be raised. Her response:

We have not weighed in on the cap, but I will say that what we are interested in is how some of the H-1B visa fees are put back into the system for worker retraining and career technical education. That's something we've worked with the Department of Labor on, and we'll continue to weigh in on what's the right way to ensure that the funds that are collected from the H-1B are used to invest in our workforce here in the United States.

Hyman explained that the reason CompTIA hasn't weighed in on the cap has to do with the fact that its core constituency is comprised of SMBs that aren't affected by the issue:

When you think about a lot of the IT solution providers, they're not hiring folks from overseas. These are domestic jobs. So we're trying to follow where our membership is in terms of giving voice to some of their concerns and issues.

Hyman is a registered lobbyist. I asked her if it's fair to say that "lobbyist" has a negative connotation, and if so, what she does do to overcome that. I liked her response:

I suppose I would take a step back and say what we're trying to do is represent the interests of people that have not always had a voice at the table. So coming back to this notion of tens of thousands of IT solution providers that are small businesses across the country, I'm proud to be able to try to give a voice to some of the things that they care about from a policy point of view. That's my job.

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