Greater Washington: More Than the Sum of Its Parts

P> syn-er-gy \«si-ner-jee\ n [NL synergia, fr. Gk. synergos working together] combined or cooperative action or force.

Let the facts speak for themselves. No corporate fluff. No regional boosterism. No marketing jargon. Just facts.

In the pages that follow, we endeavor to tell the story of the players that make up Washington's technology community. You will find in this section a wealth of corporate data and trend analysis that you can find in no other publication. Keep it for future reference. Show it to friends from elsewhere when they say, "High-tech business in the nation's capital? Sure, and cows grow wings." It's a keeper.

Here are the facts. The Washington region has the highest average family income and the highest educational attainment of any metropolitan area in the United States.

Government agencies and their contractors around the nation's capital spawned the Internet, which is now dominated by area firms such as America Online, UUNET Technologies Inc. and PSINet Inc. The $15 billion satellite communications business is clustered around the Beltway, as are the headquarters of the largest defense and aerospace giants such as Lockheed Martin/Loral. The world's largest information archives, at the Library of Congress and elsewhere, are based here.

The single biggest source of R&D and purchaser of information technology -- the federal government, Fortune One -- is all around us. Nearly every major high-tech company keeps a lobbying office or major operation in the region.

The central role of Washington regulators in telecommunications has attracted telephone giants, including MCI, and some of the hottest companies in areas such as personal communications services. A similar dynamic has operated in the biotech industry, which has gathered around Maryland's suburbs -- home to NIH and Johns Hopkins University.

Finally, professional services and systems integration firms -- a peculiar industry spawned by government contracts for complex information systems -- supply the technical talent that fuels their own and other businesses.

Just look at any Sunday employment section of The Washington Post, and you'll see page after page of ads for engineers and programmers. This belies the belief, which is prevalent in Silicon Valley, that people around the Beltway couldn't program their way out of a wet paper bag.

Admittedly, these companies harbor a different kind of creativity. A systems integrator's key skill is understanding the cultural and economic impact of inserting information technology into organizations. Its primary assets walk on two legs. Mark Filteau, president of the Information & Engineering Technology group at DynCorp, summed it up nicely. "The Silicon Valley people are like guys who make storm doors for houses. We're the guys who actually build the house."

Put another way, Filteau and his associates are the general contractors of the information age, only the houses they build are made of electrons.

This is the greatest value of synergy in the information age -- the ability to combine brains, silicon, ether and fiber into information systems that make organizations work better and cost less. The Tofflers believe such synergy underlies the so-called "third-wave" economy. Information technologies play the same role in this economy as machine tools did in the "second-wave" economy.

From a financial point of view, synergy so defined is now the world's most valuable commodity. And that trend bodes well for the future fortunes of Washington's technology business communities, which have synergy in virtual spades.

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