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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Sen. Warner's big tech opportunities

You can’t blame U.S. Sen. Mark Warner for being a bit of a homer for Virginia. It’s his state after all.

But even with that bias, you have to pay attention to when a senator with his technology background (he’s a founder of Nextel and a pioneer of the cellular industry) talks about what he sees as three technologies with a lot of promise for growth.

Warner’s top picks: big data, cyber and unmanned systems.

I know it doesn’t take a genius to pick those, but Warner was focused on how those technology areas can grow and prosper in Virginia. The drivers he talked about at the Professional Services Council’s Vision Forecast conference also apply nationwide. (Full disclosure: I grew up in Luray, in the Shenandoah Valley, so I’m a bit of a homer for Virginia, too.)


The business opportunity in the big data area is being driven in part by the Data Act of 2014, which will lead to better quality data and more access. One opportunity is taking government data and monetizing it “in ways we can’t imagine,” he said.

In Northern Virginia, the data center business is booming with new facilities being built in the region, particularly in Loudon County as well as data centers outside the area such as Culpepper, Va. “These are enormous assets,” Warner said.

“How do we take these resources and develop a strategy so Virginia becomes a national and international leader in big data,” he said.


Here Warner was frank and gave Maryland a nod for having a lead over the Old Dominion in this area. Maryland benefits in part by having the National Security Agency headquarters and a statewide University of Maryland system.

“But Virginia has assets,” Warner said. These include the Navy Information Dominance Forces Command in Suffolk, Va., which was created earlier this year and pulled together the Navy Cyber Forces Command, Fleet Cyber Command, Office of Naval Intelligence and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command into one supervisory command.

Virginia also is home to the Homeland Security Department’s cyber operations as well as other Defense Department cyber operations.

Warner said he’s advocating a strategy that includes more coordination of cyber activities at Virginia universities to foster more internships and career opportunities for students. The state also needs to do a better job of showcasing native cyber capabilities.


Warner said he sees unmanned systems – cars, aerial and marine – as the next big disruptive technology and Virginia has a leading test bed for these technologies at Virginia Tech. NASA also has the Langley Research Center in Virginia and the FAA has a major presence in the state.

In the Norfolk area, the Navy is doing a lot of work with unmanned marine systems, he said.

“Driverless cars are not 20 years away, they are coming to us much more quickly,” he said.

With the technology and facilities already in the state, Virginia has the potential to be an international leader in the unmanned space.

Speaking to the business leaders at the Vision conference, Warner said, “Help us layout a business for the commonwealth.”

The interesting thing that I see in these three tech areas is that they cross the commercial/government line as well as state lines.

Big data is both a commercial and government opportunity. So is cyber and unmanned systems, so while we don’t cover the commercial market, these are areas that we should pay close attention to because the opportunity stretches far beyond the public sector.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 20, 2015 at 9:33 AM

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