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Executive Interview: William R. Waas, Chairman & CEO of the Illinois Technology Foundation

Dec 20, 2013 12:54 PM EST

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William R. Waas is the Chairman & CEO of the Illinois Technology Foundation. The Illinois Technology Foundation (ITF) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of the technology talent pipeline in the State of Illinois by creating and coordinating mentorships, internships and networking opportunities. ITF works closely with industry, academia, and government in order to fulfill its mission.

The Foundation is the philanthropy arm of the Illinois Technology Association (ITA), a membership organization of more than 700 Illinois technology companies who support the development of a stronger technology talent pipeline in the region. Droid Report recently interviewed William Waas about his current role at ITF, the evolution of some today’s technologies, insights on mobile and business, and the foundation’s upcoming plans for FY 2014.

William R. Waas Chairman & CEO of the Illinois Technology Foundation

Droid Report: The Illinois Technology Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of the technology talent pipeline in the State of Illinois. What is your role like as the Chairman & CEO for The Illinois Technology Foundation?

William R. Waas: To sum it up in one word “incredible”! I have the pleasure and honor of representing over 300 passionate volunteers in our information technology community. Each volunteer is focused on the continued development of the technology pipeline in Illinois. We have the opportunity to touch so many young people’s lives and to truly make a difference in their career development. This year we will give back over $1,000,000 in financial and in-kind services to the Illinois community.

Droid Report: What are some of your upcoming foundation initiatives for 2014?

William R. Waas: In 2013, we introduced three new programs, 2014 will be focused on growing these programs:

Adopt a School – each of our 45 Board members have adopted a college/university in Illinois. The intent of the program is to develop a deep and lasting relationship with the Dean and faculty in the school’s information technology/computer science academic programs. This is a critical step in the continued growth of the Foundation and our continued influence on the career development of students.

Student Technology Club (www.itfstudent.org) – we established the club to address the colleges that either do not have a technology club or where the school is interested in tapping into our various programs. The Club is unique in that it is open to any individual interested in the advancement of students in our industry: students, faculty and IT professionals. We currently have over 200 members and are looking to grow to 500 members by the end of 2014.

Center for Innovative Thinking (CFIT) (http://www.cithink.org) – CFIT was establish to address the desire for corporations to be more innovative. In 2013, we worked with two organization Underwriters Lab (http://www.ul.com) and UHC (http://www.uhc.edu) . They provided us with big data challenges, we assembled student teams from local universities to train them on the use of creative/critical thinking tools and applying them to real world challenges. Our plan for 2014 is to further expand this program and get the staff of the client companies more engaged.  

Parent Engagement – there is much discussion about the decline of our public education system and most of the focus of those concerns are directed at public education administrators and teachers. Of course they play a vital role in the education process, but we, at the Foundation, believe that the parents/caregivers have an even more important role in creating good students that are truly engaged in the learning process. In 2014, it is our intent to better understand the challenge of parent engagement and to develop pilot programs to drive awareness and change.

Droid Report: Could you tell us more about some of the recent innovative projects and programs at ITF such as the Student Technology Club, Fifty for the Future and Events at the foundation?

William R. Waas: As mentioned, the Student Technology Club and also the following:

Fifty for the Future® is our signature program and how our organization got started. We are entering our eight year of the program. Each year we identify 50 college/university and 10 high school students in Illinois. GPA is one element, but equally important is that the individual is a good corporate/community citizen. The competition culminates in an annual celebration with over 200 people in attendance. In addition to receiving the recognition award, each student and nominating faculty member receives a $1,000 training scholarship, in total it represents $125,000 in scholarship awards.

CPS Capstone Program – in 2013, we created a $25,000 scholarships for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) senior capstone program. In addition to providing the funding, we also helped organize the event and provided 30 industry judges. Each of 40 schools participate in a local information technology competition, the best 2 or 3 at the local school level get to showcase their project at the CPS district level. Last year we had over 200 students, parents, faculty and industry professionals participate in the program.

Mentoring Program – each year we conduct 3-4 mentoring events. Each attracts over 70 individuals equally divided between mentees and mentors. The program is designed to assist in the connection of mentees to mentors. At any one time we have over 100 students in our mentoring program.

IT Skills Gap – much has been written about the technology skills gap, but very little local or regional data is available. We initiated a program in 2013 engaging other technology organizations in our community including BDPA, SIM, AITP, CompTIA, Directions Training, ISSCA and TEN to address this issue. Our focus is on the current problem facing the hiring community not the longer term STEM efforts. We plan to identify several areas of focus and to develop programs to mitigate the shortage.

Droid Report: William, as a seasoned management consultant with extensive experience in information technology (IT), Partner and OEM (original equipment manufacturing) management. Being passionate about the convergence of IT with corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropy, as well as how corporations can help close the digital divide, could you share some of your views for example of how organizations can close this digital divide?

William R. Waas: Closing the digital divide is an interesting and challenging endeavor, I am probably in the minority in stating that it isn’t about money spent to address the issue, it is more about spending the money wisely. There are many good intention programs focused on the issue, but I think much of the money and effort spent is either diluted and/or misdirected. The abundance of programs has a tendency to confuse school administrators and faculty and they end up grasping at straws to find the right solution. In turn, this becomes confusing to the students and their parents. I always state to our Board that we have no competition in the market and that we should always find ways to embrace and support other groups programs and initiatives, we need more of that thinking in our communities.

Droid Report: ITF posted a recent blog from Information Week this past week “IBM Predicts Next 5 Life-Changing Tech Innovations” which highlighted the following, “There were 12.6 million victims of identity fraud last year in the US alone, but IBM predicts that within five years we'll all have our own "digital guardians" that will watch over our digital lives, using cloud-based analytics to learn the difference between our normal activity and potentially dangerous online activity.” What has been your thoughts on security and analytics to monitor potential threats?

William R. Waas: Great question, sometimes it seems like there are more bad guys then good guys. Each time we develop a solution to a security problem, the bad guys find a way around it. It seems like the challenge of finding the cure for the common cold. I think companies like IBM and others will continue to create solutions, but frankly, I don’t believe the threat will ever be eliminated. The good news is that this requires the development and expansion of information technology and data analytic/scientist personnel. Clearly, students entering those fields will have a long and rewarding career.

Droid Report: “The global marketplace for financial services is failing the poor in the developing world, but could be improved to benefit both the poor and financial providers”, according to a recent study released called Fighting Poverty, Profitably. How do you feel about digital payment transformation to benefit the poor?

William R. Waas: Our focus at the Foundation is on Illinois and the impact of poverty on the development of successful student outcomes. CPS is the 3rd largest school district in the country with 87% of the students from low-income families. Although, I appreciate the worldwide challenges, we chose to focus our energy on our community. There is a very interesting article It’s Poverty Not Stupid, it indicates that the United States has amongst the highest poverty rates in the free world. All of the recent press indicates that the income disparity continues to grow. Not to get political, but this cannot continue without grave consequences. The challenges are many for example students sitting in class hungry, the well to do taking their children out of the public school system, the lack of parent engagement and the dysfunction of government to deal with the challenge. I truly believe this is a powder keg about to explode. In our little way, we are working with local organizations to mitigate some of these challenges.

Droid Report: You are also an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University, teaching in the area of IT Management. What are some of the challenges you see today in both technology and education?

William R. Waas: The biggest challenge in higher education is affordability. I think that colleges and universities are beginning to address this challenge, but it is a major disruption to the status quo. Colleges and universities have made a huge investment in classrooms and campuses and traditional (faculty tenure) ways to deliver a quality education. The transition to a more competitive environment will be challenging and tenuous for many institutions.

The second big challenge is making sure students are prepared to enter the workforce. I think too many institutions believe that their role is to educate, not necessarily to positions students for the workforce. I have a different view, I look at education as a manufacturing process, you take in raw material (students), you provide work in progress (educate) and you create a finished product (educated student). If the product is not of high quality and in demand in the market, your company would go out of business. We need to get academia and industry talking and sharing ideas. In addition, schools need to find ways to quickly modify their programs to address a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Droid Report: What about online education?

William R. Waas: Frankly, to me the jury is still out on online education. This sounds like a bit of a contradiction from my earlier comment so let me explain. One of the biggest challenges for students coming out of college is their ability to fit into the corporate culture which requires communication and collaboration. The current delivery method for online education is challenged in this area. Having said that, I believe the online tools are beginning to catch up and make the interaction as close to “real time” as possible. The proof is still a while off on how online trained students will perform in the corporate environment.

Droid Report: Is there anything else you feel Android users and the Android market should know?

William R. Waas: I would just recommend that your readers consider giving back to their communities. Most all successful people have had a mentor in their life. That means someone took the time to care about you, the question is are you a giver or a taker?? Make a Difference – Volunteer.

We would like to thank William for taking the time for this discussion and the Illinois Technology Foundation.

Illinois Technology Association

Learn more and volunteer by visiting the Illinois Technology Foundation’s website at http://www.ITFound.org.

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