The Information Technology Alliance, an independent membership association of mid-market technology consultants and providers, is going for a younger look.
During their biannual meetings of about 250 members from 100 firms, Kevin Cumley, a member of ITA’s board of directors who's leading the alliance’s new future leaders initiative, started noticing that “200 of them have gray hair.”
Cumley, as a founder and president of Sage channel partner and software provider Forepoint, previously witnessed this demographic chasm in his business, which he decided to sell in 2010.
“One mistake I made—not necessarily a mistake, not for lack of trying—was there was not the right people in the mix at our firm. We identified who we thought were future leaders, but they would leave or things wouldn’t work out. We couldn’t get them developed and brought up to be partners to support the existing strategy and succession plan.”
Now, Cumley is attempting to create this mix with ITA, beginning with a survey conducted at their spring collaborative meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last May.
Of the 50 percent of members that responded to the survey—one of the highest rates he’s seen—90 percent said they wanted a future leaders development program within ITA.
“It was good confirmation of what we think is an important issue for ITA; we agree,” Cumley said. “It helps us in setting the direction and starting to develop these programs.”
That direction includes encouraging young professional membership by honoring generational differences.
“Here’s the challenge: the way we think as baby boomers is definitely different than Generation X, and certainly Generation Y,” Cumley explained. “The way we do business, the way we think about business. We’re putting together programs that utilize traditional approaches to business with forums in place for generations of future leaders to get together their own networking forum.”
One forum for the under-30-year-old crowd, which Cumley estimates to compose less than 5 percent of total membership, is a new CRM system that not only manages membership and event activities, but includes a social network platform.
“It’s something more private—a special community that’s gated,” said Brian Austin, who is on the communications committee. “There’s lots of discussion they have that should be confidential. It’s a great tool and vehicle for firms to support next-generation initiatives—they can use that to control their relationships and that networking in the virtual space.”
This control is important, Cumley realized after a panel on developing future leaders during ITA’s spring meeting caused management-level participants to censor themselves because those very young professionals were in the audience. Those future leaders similarly need a space to be unfiltered, and Cumley said that buffer will be available at future conferences, like this fall’s 15-year anniversary meeting Nov. 4-6 Scottsdale, Ariz., which should offer a specific track for the demographic.
The conference will be during a time of transition for the ITA, with founder Ron Eagle having stepped down from his role as president, effective Sept. 1. Long-time ITA member and McGladrey technology consulting services principal Stan Mork will take over as president in the summer of 2013, and has already shown support for this new direction.
“He’s definitely very enthusiastic about this initiative,” Cumley shared. “The future of the ITA is at stake.”
Cumley acknowledged that the effort will take multiple years, but that the ITA is eager to begin launch.
“This is the single biggest issue facing our association, with membership mostly in their early 50s or 60s,” he continued. “In five to 10 years, 95 percent of that membership is going to be gone. It doesn’t bode well. We’ve got to hurry up.”