Intercomms - Wireless Update
INTERCOMMS : The International Communications Project


George NewstromGrowing up in the World

George Newstrom, Chairman of WITSA talks to Intercomms about the evolution of the World Congress

Newstrom assumed his current responsibilities in November, 2004. The experience he brings includes holding a public appointment and 28 years as a private sector executive.

Prior to heading WiSPER Technologies, LLC, Mr. Newstrom was appointed by Governor Mark R. Warner to serve as Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia. As Secretary of Technology, Mr. Newstrom advised the Governor on the growth of technology in our global economy and the effective use of information technology in state government. Mr. Newstrom served as both CIO for the Commonwealth and chief strategist for raising Virginia's visibility in the global technology marketplace.

Mr. Newstrom was previously with EDS, a leading global information technology services company. During his 28-year career with EDS, Mr. Newstrom held various leadership positions in the health care and government sectors. Mr. Newstrom culminated his career at EDS as a corporate senior vice president and president of EDS Asia Pacific. In this role, Mr. Newstrom was responsible for EDS' operations in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Prior to joining EDS, Mr. Newstrom served in the United States Marine Corps as a communications and electronics officer.

Mr. Newstrom's community involvement includes serving on volunteer boards, helping service organizations and actively supporting educational opportunities for children. He has held advisory and leadership roles on numerous foundations and boards, including the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government advisory board, the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service, the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), and the Virginia Technology Council. He currently serves as chairman of the board of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA).

Mr. Newstrom holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in education administration from the University of California. Mr. Newstrom has two children, Doug and Kristen, a grandson, Peter George and a granddaughter, Daniella Elisabeth.

Q: You've been involved in successive World Congresses over several years. How has it changed during that time?
A: This is my tenth year with the World Congress. My first was in Bilbao, Spain in 1996. I then had the fortunate opportunity to chair the event in Fairfax Country, Virginia in 1998, which was one of the better World Congresses. At that event we had almost two thousand people and that experience one of the things that started the transformation of the World Congress to become a truly global venue. Until then it tended to be a locally attended event. Fairfax Country was the first time we tried to make participation 50:50, half local the rest international. That has been the goal of all World Congresses since. In 2000 it was held in Taipei, Taiwan and I became the Chairman of WITSA. In 2002 it was held in Adelaide, Australia and 2004 in Athens and this year it is in Austin, Texas. Based on our very close working relationship with the people in Austin, I predict that this will be the best World Congress ever in terms of participation, programme and visibility to the IT world. We are extremely enthusiastic about what's happening this year.

Q: In terms of the issues being addressed at Bilbao, what has changed and what hasn't since then?
A: When a country is awarded the World Congress they get to decide what the themes are for that event for that year. In a way it really does change according to country issues. However, 1998 was the first time we had very multinational group. In addition to the President of the United States, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev all spoke at that World Congress. Our theme was technology not for technologies sake but technology driving other industries whether it be health care, manufacturing, product delivery, consumerism or entertainment. Every one of those industries was spoken to by industry experts, not technology experts. The single most important conclusion that keep coming out of every World Congress is just how small the world is getting via IT as Thomas Friedman clearly articulated in his new book 'The World is Flat'. It really is making the world much smaller and that is what keeps them coming to our World Congresses.

Q: Although multi-national the scope in terms of where they are held - when are we going to see venues in Africa or Latin America?
A: It's a good question which has two answers. WITSA is comprised of 65-country associations right now. In fact the only major country not a member is China and we are working diligently to have them join. Of the 65 I would say that just eight represents over 90 percent of the world's IT production and revenues. The other 57 are the smaller countries. However, we spend as much time on those as we do the larger players. We do have other events every other year as well. For instance we are going to Beirut, Lebanon this year to have our annual board of directors meeting. and global policy conference.

The second part of the answer is analogous to the Olympics. We are certainly not the same scale but I do call our 'World Congress' events the Olympics of Technology. The World Congress must be at a location and a place that can handle and support the event. It also takes money to put together the venue and the speakers. It must be in locations that people want to go to so we do have events in different parts of the world and are working with all our country associations at all times to do so. Ultimately however, the World Congress, just like the Olympics, has to be held in a place and venues that will attract the type of interest visibility we need.

Q: How long before we'll see a Congress outside the traditional areas?
A: Within the next decade. We have interest from Brazil, Russia and South Africa in holding the 2010 World Congress. We think we are going to get a handful of bids from around the world but again, when we evaluate the bids we have to remember that having a place to go and people going are two separate things. With the World Congress, unlike most IT events, the people we want to attend are the senior business leaders. These are the 'CXO' level people, not technicians, not the people who go to traditional 'trade show' events. We are trying to attract the business leaders who are working to create and implement the strategy and vision of the future to come together at this type of event. Therefore it is even more important for us to have it at a substantive location that will attract these sorts of people.

Q: China is not a WITSA member yet. When do you think you will have formal representation from a market of 1.3 billion consumers?
A: It is my desperate hope to achieve that as soon as possible. They joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) a couple of years ago, which was long time coming. WITSA and our Asia oversight association are working very closely with some of their senior government officials and hopefully it will happen in the next three to four years

Q: What's been the impact year after year?
A: From a WITSA perspective when I took over the chair in 2000 we had 24 countries members, now we have 65. We have at least doubled and grown in about five years. A large part of that growth was the visibility that we got through the World Congresses through the delegates that came from the various countries and the success we had in 1998 in the US and in 2000 in Taipei, 2002 in Adelaide and to a lesser extent in Greece in 2004. I think our growth and visibility at the World Congress has had a tremendous impact on our growth.

Fairfax County is still talking about the impact that they had on the delegates and business growth from the World Congress. While certainly one of the most visible regions of the world with DC being 20 minutes away, this part of Virginia did not have the type of IT-notoriety it needed, until WITSA held the World Congress there in 1998.

Q: What about influencing government policy?
A: One of the biggest influences has been the pure educational role on the issues around us. Those issues are now global and are the same in every country. Internet taxation is probably one of the biggest public policy issues we deal with at WITSA. There are so many diverse and variant government agencies who all want have some of the goodies that come along with the Internet and the tax base that goes with it. It doesn't matter what country you are from that is an issue that goes around the world.

The second is Intellectual Property (IP) and IP protection. We spend a considerable amount of time with our member country associations helping them understand how to protect their IP first in their own countries and secondly how to do business across the world with partners.

Additionally, WITSA has demonstrated leadership on the hot-button issue of Internet governance, including at the recently concluded World Summit on the Information Society; and on international trade issues, such as the WTO multilateral trade negotiations.

Q: Austin is planning a series of votes by delegates on a series of motions. What will be the significance of this?
A: I applaud Austin. This is their concept. This innovative, creative and real time so when those votes are taken electronically, participants will be able to see the direction and sense of the other participants real time. That is very substantive. In the past, very much like the United Nations and the WTO, we have had paper presented and discussion had but those take time to resolve and sometimes you forget what the issues are and what you talked about. I am thrilled that Austin is doing this and it will substantially increase the impact of the issues we are talking about and vote on. I think this will generate visibility across the world and into the next World Congress when we do it that way. I am really looking forward to this way of airing our issues?

Q: What is the continuing message of the World Congress?
A: It is interesting what I have seen is the transformation of how technology is a support element of almost everything we touch as human being whether we are individual nor corporation or corporate entities. There is almost nothing we touch that doesn't have technology as a backdrop.

What is becoming very important in the discussions at the World Congress is how technology is part of, but not the central theme of how we live and work. That is really coming out now and that will be made clear at Austin during our 2006 World Congress on Information Technology in Austin, Texas May 3-6, 2006 ( I'm looking forward to the event.

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