When many people think of southeast Michigan, technology isn’t usually the first word to pop into their minds. But one organization wants to change that.
When many people think of southeast Michigan, “technology” isn’t usually the first word to pop into their minds. But Digital Detroit has hope that the area can become a tech powerhouse.
The group is fostering economic development in the region by hosting educational events, an annual conference, and networking forums in both the electronic and real-world realms. Christopher Cameron, the CEO of Digital Detroit, chatted about building awareness and the organization’s drive to make southeast Michigan a strong tech community.
Why do you think the region needed an organization like Digital Detroit?
The people who brought it together, Jeffrey Sloan and Richard Sloan, felt that one of the ingredients missing in the region was awareness of how valuable southeast Michigan could be in technology and business.
As we talked to people about how they felt about the region, we knew that they wouldn’t think of this area as Silicon Valley, but we didn’t realize how little they thought of the region as a player at all in the industry.
What have the greatest challenges been in building and running the organization?
I think it’s been challenging to get companies to give themselves credit for what they’ve done, and see that base as a path to the future. Southeast Michigan is home to the largest spend on technology in the country. You look at that fact and think that this region should be fraught with opportunity, but it’s hard to make technology companies succeed here.
Part of it is not realizing that we have all this opportunity, so it’s a big challenge to try and just get a sense of awareness as well as a belief in what we can do. We’ve got everything we need right here. We’re a great place for technology, a great place to live and work and we have so many assets that other regions would be thrilled to have. Now we need to get word out about that to the rest of the world.
This is not a new problem. For the past 20 or 30 years people have been beating the economic drum, saying that we’re a region that could be a leader in technology. But we’re not a region that adjusts quickly to cultural change, so the adoption of new ideas takes time.
How do you go about building awareness of the potential of the region?
There are many things we do. We have a radio show, The Digital Hour, that’s been on for almost three years. We run a live event series. We’ve worked hard on making sure that the events we have are consistent with what’s going on in the industry.
So, for example, we talk about specific educational topics, but we also address security and other top tech issues. This gives people the chance to see how they’re connected to the larger national scene and that allows for discussions about how those issues affect the region.
One of the best things we do is bring in technology leaders from the region as well as industry pioneers and other speakers. They highlight the kinds of successes that are happening now, and give people a feeling that we can have even more of those kind of stories in the future.
What kind of technology trends have you been noticing lately?
Security is something we’ve looked at on a fairly deliberate basis. We created an event series on the topic, the Digital Security Summit. The desire to look more closely at security topics came about as part of my personal experience. Having spent a good deal of time in the industry, I’ve had an on-the-ground education about issues facing IT managers at both big and small companies. As I talked to more people, I became aware of specific issues that it seemed like we weren’t talking about, like security.
Is there a particular trend in security that you think is being overlooked?
What we’re finding with security is a certain phenomenon; I’ll call it the displacement of responsibility. In the world of security, you have more and more exposure to various forms of liability, and that brings different business groups together.
Before, you just had that IT department, but because of regulations and fiduciary concerns, everyone at a company is involved with making sure that proper security is in place.
So, you have different business groups inheriting more responsibility trying to work with security professionals who were hired to take care of a company’s security. The two just don’t meet well. It’s because business people generally take it on faith that the IT people just have the whole thing handled. And the IT departments are often undermanned and underfunded, so it may not be handled well at all. I don’t think there’s a real effective communication channel.
What do you hope to accomplish with your security summit?
We hope to put these pressing issues into our conference in a way that allows both business and technology professionals to listen to those issues and talk to each other.
Second, we hope to be able to identify issues that folks aren’t thinking about, and show them why they should be. And third, we hope to give the audience some directions they can go in. We don’t want them to leave feeling like there are a host of issues without knowing what can be done to solve those problems. We want them to know that there are people they can call, colleagues they can talk to, and processes that should be put in place.
It’s not a prescription, but at least it’s ideas they may not have had before. As with all of our events and everything we do, we want people to leave with more answers than questions.