World Congress: A Spark for Innovation

GUEST OPINION George C. Newstrom

World Congress: A Spark for Innovation

The olympics of the technology industry is coming to Fairfax County June 21-24. That's how I like to refer to the 1998 World Congress of Information Technology.

More than 1,800 technology executives from more than 50 countries will gather on the campus of George Mason University for what the Los Angeles Times recently called a glittery Fairfax County event.

Even more young, entrepreneur-focused recognition came from Wired magazine's May edition, which rates meetings in the technology sector on a one- to three-star scale. Wired gave the World Congress only a single star for the geek factor but three stars each for tete-a-tete potential and star power. So while few geeks will be present, there will be glitter and stars.

The featured speakers include former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The program also includes: James Barksdale, CEO of Netscape Communications; Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Computer Corp.; Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp. CEO; Steve Forbes, presidential candidate and editor in chief of Forbes magazine and Alfred Berkeley III, president of the Nasdaq stock exchange.

This is the first time in 10 years the biennial gathering will be held in the United States, and it's the first World Congress ever to be held at a university. Indicating how significant this is as a global premier event, Taiwan has won the rights to this gathering in 2000, and Australia has won them for 2002.

The meeting will offer senior-level information executives from around the world an opportunity to forge business relationships while catching up on the industry's latest trends, cutting edge technologies and innovative developments.

This year's theme, "When the Convergence of Information Technology Meets Consumer Demand," aptly frames what is happening every day in information technology. Those that meet here will discuss the challenges of creating and marketing the ever-changing technology consumers need and want.

Information technology - the convergence of communications and technology - affects nearly everything we do. Wireless communications, computers, the Internet, cable television and fax machines have become indispensable to us.

Those of us in Fairfax County, Northern Virginia and the greater Washington area have been in on the information technology revolution from the beginning. The Internet had its start in Fairfax County. Information technology pioneers seized on technology developed at the Pentagon and created an international communications phenomenon that has brought the world closer together.

The World Congress provides a long-awaited opportunity to demonstrate our region's success in advancing this information technology revolution:

We are the fastest growing technology region in the United States, outpacing the employment growth in the Silicon Valley and the Boston area's Route 128 corridor.

More than half of all daily international Internet traffic moves through our area.

Four of the largest Internet access and content providers are located in Northern Virginia.

There are more than 2,300 technology firms here, employing more than 260,000 people. This gives the region the second highest concentration of technology firms in the country.

While our region certainly has credentials that qualify us to hold this prestigious event, it didn't end up here by some lucky fluke. The World Congress is the biennial conference of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance, an international alliance of 25 information technology trade associations covering North America, South America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority had the vision to begin working in 1995 to bring the World Congress here. The event was awarded to the development authority, working in partnership with the Information Technology Association of America, the U.S. representative to the World Information Technology and Services Alliance.

The presence of so many international technology executives right here in Fairfax County should be a clear reminder that we are involved in intense and relentless competition. Our competition, simply put, is the rest of the world. I'm confident the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology will become an important milestone on our continued path of global leadership.

Let's celebrate, but also let's think of this event as a launching pad to the 21st century, a time in which information technology entrepreneurs in our area will create ways to improve our society that we haven't even dreamed about.

George C. Newstrom is vice president and group executive of the Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s government services division. He also is chairman of the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology executive board of directors. His e-mail address is

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