Written by Colin Wood

A new tech industry association announced on Thursday it will launch early next year with the mission of helping its members win contracts and establish tighter relationships with state and local government agencies in California.

The Technology Industry Association of California, or TechCA, says it’s the first such industry association in the state. Its initial sponsors include high-profile technology firms like Red Hat and SAP, the 96,000-employee German software giant, as well as several smaller companies, such as CivicActions, a Berkeley web-design outfit.

The group’s chief executive, Jennifer Saha, spent six years with another industry trade association, CompTIA, after roles with the California Department of General Services and the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Saha, who also served as chief of staff on former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recovery task force, said the association’s mission is to help industry “be a better partner to government.”

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After leaving CompTIA a few months ago to start a private consulting firm, Saha said she realized the technology industry didn’t have a trade association devoted to business with the largest state in the country, a fact she found “shocking,” considering the many influential companies based in Silicon Valley.

Now taking up this mantle herself, Saha said one of TechCA’s goals is to provide equal representation to its members, regardless of their influence in the industry.

“One company, one vote,” she said. “We’re scaling so we can appeal to smaller companies as well as larger companies, the big guys and the little guys. Everyone has an equal voice. We’re pretty hardcore on being vendor-neutral and we work by reaching consensus on issues.”

While smaller companies have traditionally struggled to compete with international technology firms that have the resources to weather state government’s lengthy procurement processes, executives at companies of all sizes gripe about the plodding and often needlessly complex way that governments buy their products and services.

In addition to helping companies navigate procurement, Saha said TechCA’s other mission is to lobby on behalf of its membership for new laws in Sacramento. Technologies and practices that are considered old hat in the private sector are sometimes considered cutting-edge in government, she pointed out, and everyone can benefit by bringing government up to speed.

“These companies have been doing it for years, sometimes decades, and there’s a lot government can learn from industry about the latest and greatest technologies,” Saha said, pointing to potential gains in operational efficiency and workforce.

Government agencies at all levels of government are frequently viewed as aloof or difficult to work with, led by officials ensconced in rules designed to uphold ethical standards and cultivate fair market competition. Saha said she wants to convene industry and government under a banner of cooperation and common goals.

“Often government doesn’t want to talk to the industry, they don’t want to be seen as playing favorites, don’t want to tell too much or take a risk that would put government on the front page,” Saha said. “At the same time, industry associations can be very helpful with that.”

This may be one area where local governments will play a key role, she said, noting that “they’re a little more nimble” and that capturing and sharing the lessons in innovation found in local government could inform larger organizations and private industry.

Recalling her experience working for CompTIA and seeing the various other associations in the technology industry, Saha noted that they’re not always easy to connect with, but that she wants to bring people together.

“The industry and the government have the same goal and that’s to make things work efficiently and effectively for the citizens within those jurisdictions,” she said.





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