IT firms form virtual corporation

Westchester County

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To bolster its marketing clout and presence in the New York City metropolitan region, an alliance of about 150 high-tech companies is planning to form a "virtual corporation."

This summer, the Westchester Information Technology Cluster (WITC) — a business association formed a couple of years ago with the help of the Westchester County government in suburban New York — hopes to formally unveil the initiative that would showcase the collective expertise of small and midsize companies.

"As a customer, you would be able to work with a group of senior technical experts who have the breadth of skills that you would find in a large corporation, but, in fact, it's a combination of smaller companies," said Norm Jacknis, the county's chief information officer, adding that the alliance is revamping its Web site (www.westchester-it.com).

"Part of the group has been very much affected by the sole philosophy of 'coopetition,' " Jacknis said, referring to the concept of cooperation among competing companies.

Prior to WITC, Jacknis said high-tech companies in the area were "on their own" and looked for opportunities in New York City — a situation that tended to stifle growth and ideas. With a high-speed backbone in the county, the companies realized they could communicate with one another, work together on projects, do joint marketing and present themselves as a unified group, he said.

"The typical problem you have with a lot of IT companies, particularly ones that are midsize or smaller, is that they have excellent technical skills, these people really understand technology and are doing a lot of fascinating new things, but they're really not marketers," Jacknis said. "And so...they really need the help of a group of people who are specialized in marketing and sales and are acting on their behalf."

Jacknis said the virtual corporation idea is hard to describe, but he likens it to an agricultural marketing cooperative in which a number of companies operate independently, are financially independent, but present themselves as a unified company in terms of marketing and other ways.

The county, in its traditional role of promoting economic development, is assisting the initiative through staff support and some financial aid. However, Jacknis added that Andrew Spano, county executive, has a keen interest because he previously co-founded an e-commerce firm and has a "well-deserved" reputation in the sector.

Jacknis said local governments will also benefit, especially in the wake of Sept. 11, as they try to learn how technology can assist in homeland security initiatives. "We can now sit down and have some good conversations with these companies on how technology could help us. It has become almost like a laboratory that's available to the public sector here," he said.

Jacknis said the cluster companies want to expand internationally, establishing relationships in Europe and Asia. "A lot of this is possible because of the Internet and the ease of communications between people," he said.

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