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Montgomery Business Journal AFITC

THE FUTURE IS NOW

Get an inside look at the major Air Force conference that focuses on all things tech and whose offerings and audience go far beyond the military.

By: Wendi Lewis

The Air Force Information Technology Conference (AFITC) is back and better than ever. The event has expanded in focus to include defending America from cyber-attacks, advanced persistent threats, and how the Air Force can proactively lead this battle in this increasingly digital world. It has even changed its name to reflect this new frontier—the Air Force Information Technology & Cyberpower conference, held this year on August 28-30.

Maxwell Air Force Base is the home of Air University, the Air Force’s Intellectual and Leadership Center for the Air Force, and Gunter Annex hosts some of the most sophisticated technology enterprise systems in the Department of Defense (DOD). Maxwell-Gunter AFB and the City of Montgomery together are participants in a Smart City/ Smart Base initiative. Maxwell-Gunter AFB is the only military base in the nation to be designated a Smart Base as part of a pilot program with AT&T. In addition, Air University has opened a new Cyber College with the goal of developing new strategies and tactics for the use of Cyberpower and leveraging new and innovative technologies within the Air Force and Department of Defense.

“Technology is the same whether it’s inside the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or businesses and universities,” said Joe Greene, Vice President, Military & Innovative Strategies for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. “In the sense that everyone faces questions about security, moving toward more advanced systems like cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence. These concepts apply across the board. Everyone has access to technology. Everyone has an iPhone, a smart phone. So how can we make those transitions in the military and make smart transitions. AFITC is about crossing those lines between the Air Force, the DOD and civilian sides, and how they can each enhance what the other is doing.”

To help facilitate this sharing of information, the conference focuses on collaboration. Activities allow and encourage individuals to become more than a passive audience. “AFITC has definitely evolved to address the challenges and opportunities that exist today,” said Charisse Stokes, Chairman of the Chamber’s TechMGM Task Force. “AFITC used to be primarily focused on air space and ground intelligence. That’s still a big part of the conference, but now because of the prioritization of cyberspace – the Department of Defense as a whole, has moved to value cyberspace – it becomes a matter of how do we educate our workforce, provide them with the right tools to support this industry. AFITC brings in every sector and allows everyone to collaborate on those tools and the development of a total workforce.”

A key part of that collaborative effort is Innovate AFITC, which will be run by the City in parallel with the conference. This is a hands-on “hackathon” type activity that will task teams to identify potential problems and propose solutions to address those challenges. The theme this year will be potential challenges faced by Smart Cities. Teams must include at least three members, one each from the military, private industry and a student. “It’s really about bringing the right people to the table to solve problems,” Stokes said.

These conversations are not limited to AFITC. The Chamber is working in con- junction with Air University and the Cyber College to set up an innovation center downtown to collaborate with people from private industry, universities and research centers on an ongoing basis. They will examine what new technology could be applied to the Air Force, not just for Smart City/Smart Base but along a broader spectrum. “This opens up the larger question about how we can use the capabilities we’re developing here in Montgomery to host those collaborations both physically and virtually,” Greene said. “We are developing the capabilities to share large amounts of data on a global scale. That requires a lot of computing capabilities. We’re taking two-lane roads and turning them into major highways.”

Eighteen months ago, city and county leaders announced the development of the Montgomery Internet Exchange, MGMix. In June, the exchange increased its capacity to 100 gigabytes, which is 10 times what it was when it started. That bandwidth will allow a much faster exchange of data, making Montgomery attractive to high-level technology companies, and expanding the opportunities for high-paying jobs and advanced industries to locate in the River Region. “By making technology a priority, and allowing entrepreneurs in the technology area to flourish, we are establishing Montgomery as a hub for business development,” Greene said. “They can communicate with Montgomery from anywhere on the globe and work on programs together across the Internet and across systems we’re developing.”

Another ongoing initiative to develop technology in the River Region is TechMGM training, a partnership between the Chamber,
the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) and the local IT industry community to find ways to provide opportunities for IT professionals to further develop their skills and qualifications in order to allow local contractors to source their talent locally. The program is intended to help boost the IT workforce pipeline in Montgomery, where numerous DOD contractors provide highly technical services to Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base’s defense programs.

Additionally, AFITC showcases Montgomery to the top business leaders in the IT industry as a potential site for their projects. This provides huge potential for future business development in the River Region. “The ones who come here to speak are top in their field for the company,” Greene said. “AFITC provides us the advantage of being able to showcase what’s going on here in Montgomery. We want to go beyond just having a great conference and then everyone goes home. We want to actually look at how it can improve what we’re doing here in Montgomery and improve those partnerships to continue to grow businesses and innovation in the River Region.”

  GAME CHANGER  

MGM’s new cyber and technology initiatives are re-writing the business playbook in the River Region in multiple ways. Alabama’s only Internet Exchange, MGMix, reached a milestone in June when it announced it can handle 100 gigabytes of traffic per second placing it among the ranks of powerful exchanges and positioning it to attract peering partners that move large amounts of data like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple or Netflix. Auburn University at Montgomery has signed a peering agreement and
is set to become the first University to join MGMix. For AUM, that means the potential for cost savings and more opportunities for large-scale collaborative research with other universities. Montgomery business leader Carl Barranco has been named Cyber Strategy Coordinator, helping to further develop and manage the effort to leverage the MGMix to grow Montgomery’s cyber vertical as an economic development opportunity. A new emerging innovation district has been created down- town with CoWerx46, a developer-centered co-working space as the anchor. These new initiatives, along with hosting the military’s only IT conference, are fueling economic growth, will maximize the community’s technology talent pipeline and have already perfectly positioned MGM as an emerging tech hub and tech leader within the Southeast.

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