Uncertain future

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:42 pm

Jim Rice recently stepped down as president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Association of Wisconsin Inc. (ITAWi).

However, the next six months are crucial for the organization, said Rick Fessenbecker, a spokesman for Brown Deer-based Northwoods Software Development Inc. Northwoods is a member of the ITAWi, and Fessenbecker was recently named to the board of directors.

“ITAWi”s future is up in the air because they’re relatively new, they’ve had an influx of memberships,” Fessenbecker said. “They’ve done a good job of building excitement and getting people behind them. Now it’s time to deliver.”

Rice said he stepped down from his post as president and CEO of the Madison-based ITAWi because he wanted to return to the telecommunication industry.

“I am examining for the telephone companies, how to close the revenue requirement gap between today and what it needs to be in order to justify building (fiber to the home and GigaPON-a faster optical access technology) to the home,” Rice said. “I left ITAWi because last summer it was apparent to me that Verizon’s commitment to (fiber to the home) networks to the tune of $18 billion to $23 billion was a tipping point response to the rapidly disaggregating digital content value chain.”

Prior to serving at the helm of the ITAWi’s, Rice worked for eight years in the cable industry developing commercial high speed data networks and Internet protocol telephony to compete with telephone companies, ran his own business and worked on a project that examined the market for excess bandwidth afforded by fiber to the home.

The organization’s board of directors has begun its search for Rice’s replacement, and William Mortimore, founder of Merge eMed, a division of West Allis-based Merge Technologies Inc., will serve as interim president and CEO.

What sets the ITAWi apart from other Wisconsin technology organizations is its statewide presence and lobbyist capabilities, said Kelley Starr, president of Thin Air Software LLC in Milwaukee and a board member of ITAWi.

Among other programming, ITAWi hosts peer networking events that bring 10 to 15 companies together in a luncheon format to discuss specific IT topics. ITAWi’s CIO Fusion2007 Symposium brings chief information officers (CIOs) from around the state and business leaders together to discuss the industry’s status.

In February, a workforce advisory board for ITAWi created a working plan for the direction of the organization and developed an action plan that will take place over the next 18 months. The action plan will include events, communications, internships and an advocacy program to lobby for tax credits for training, Rice said.

“I think it’s important that we have an IT representative in Madison, someone who’s looking out for our interests,” said Fessenbecker. “As an IT company, and also for companies that have IT staff, to make sure the legislation understands our needs and areas of concern. That’s a key element.”

Despite Rice’s resignation, Starr sees ITAWi moving forward.

“It’s moving in the right direction,” Starr said. “There’s support for why we exist.”

Rice said that under his leadership, ITAWi’s membership has grown by more than 85 percent and has renewal rates in excess of 80 percent.

At the end of February, ITAWi announced the addition of six new board members, including Fessenbecker; Laurie Benson, CEO of Inacom Information Systems, Madison; Rick Janezic, vice president of sales and marketing for Visicom, a division of Ini Global, Inc., Madison; David Lafferty, corporate director of technology services for Plexus Corp., Neenah; John Steindorf, president of Capital Data Inc., Milwaukee; and Jeff Stroud, finance and controls manager for Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee.

“Our newest board members bring additional IT knowledge to the association, and will strengthen ITAWi’s mission of growing the IT sector in the State of Wisconsin,” Mortimore said. “Our board of directors is looking forward to making great strides in 2007.”

The organization will continue to focus on workforce development in response to an IT labor shortage in Wisconsin, Starr said. ITAWi works with high schools and colleges to spread awareness about careers in IT.

What ITAWi needs to deliver is a concise vision of how it’s going to execute programming and communicate a plan of legislation, Fessenbecker said.

“Now they have a company doing PR for them and legislation – so the right elements are in place,” Fessenbecker said. 

“Jim brought a lot of passion to the work he did,” Starr said. “ITAWi has a lot of momentum, and I don’t anticipate any changes as to what we’re doing as an organization.”

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