Commentary: Technology, strategy and innovation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 4, 2012 – When I agreed to write a periodic column for the folks here at the Beacon, it was something that comes pretty naturally to me. I’ve always had a number of opinions and have been rarely shy about sharing them. The trickiest part of this whole process for me is the introduction, which is what this piece actually is. I guess there are a lot of ways I could do this, but, at the recommendation of my new editor, let’s just break this down and be methodical about it.

The column’s focus

So let’s start with what I will be writing about. We are going to focus on technology and innovation, along with related strategies and the impacts of technology on us as consumers, their impact on the economy, business, our society and just where it might go next. We’ll try, where possible, to work in relevant local angles and issues, but we’ll also focus on the broader sweeping national stories.

The intent will be to not only look forward at what might happen, but why the companies or markets involved are behaving as they are. What’s important and what drives often are the best indicators of where things are going. 

My background

Secondly, why am “I” writing this column. What do I bring to the table that’s unique and different? From a professional perspective, I have been a professional technologist who has been fortunate enough to have held a number of senior positions and to have been involved in a number of different areas of technology, hopefully all of which will combine to make this an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ve been at this long enough that I can separate my experience into decades – scary when you think about it.

After spending the first half of the ’90s building commercial enterprise software products, I was fortunate enough to get involved with this “Internet Thing” back in 1995 – so, I’ve been involved in this realm as long as anybody out there. Most recently I was executive vice president and chief technology officer for Disney at a corporate level, heading its Connected and Advanced Technologies Group. This meant I was responsible for the core internet technologies that reached their consumers in the web, mobile and gaming arenas for all of their brands including Disney, ABC, ABC News and ESPN.

Prior to joining Disney, I was the CTO for a music-centric technology startup that launched many of the players that tried to compete with Apple and Steve Jobs, ironically enough before inheriting “Uncle Steve” as a board member and the largest shareholder in the “House of the Mouse.” Working with this small, agile player we launched services for AOL, Yahoo, MTV, Samsung and a myriad of other players including helping Microsoft launch Zune.

In 1999, I moved to Seattle, where I would spend the next 12 years as the senior vice president and CTO responsible for creating the online platform for Getty Images. Built from almost 40 acquisitions, it was one of the largest B2B Ecommerce players on the Web at the start of the last decade. In between there and Disney, I also spent a brief period as the CTO for one of the largest online retailers. 

Returning home

After spending the last 12 years in the rainy Pacific Northwest, my wife and I moved back to the St. Louis area, where I was born and raised. She’s also from the region, so for us this is home.

By being back and getting reacquainted with the local technology scene, hopefully I can meld a bit of what I’ve learned out on the tech-savvy West Coast with what’s going on here. And I have been surprised more than a bit with all the activity happening here.

We have all of the makings for a vibrant tech scene of our own. We have new emerging funding mechanisms through sources like Capital Innovators and the recently launched Cultivation Capital Fund. There are also well established independent groups such as the Arch Angels and Fin Serve Tech Angels. These are baseline, table stakes for technology growth. We are admittedly still a bit short, but we have a very good start.

A number of interesting companies are beginning to emerge. We have potentially strong players in the data center and hosting space with Xiolink and Contegix. Hexagrid is an interesting play in the cloud space. Gremln has a very competitive offering in the corporate social network management space. Appistry, with which I have personally done a fair amount of work, was recently named one of the 20 coolest cloud storage and data center companies by Computer Reseller News. Lockerdome is doing a solid job in establishing a sports centric social network.

Potential technology renaissance

All in, this has the early makings of a Technology Renaissance for our community. There is still a long way to go and many turns in the road. That’s all a given, but in the end, with the advances in baseline technologies and the evolution of cloud services, it’s never been cheaper to start an information technology-centric company. We have the pieces, some funding, entrepreneurs and a very strong set of local colleges and universities with budding entrepreneurship programs.

It’s with all this in mind that I am looking forward to reaching out to you in this venue on a regular basis. It’s always a great time to build the future. To paraphrase and build upon the words of the late President Ronald Reagan: If not now, when? If not us, who? If not here, where?

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