Iowa needs Big Tech: Google and Amazon are the computing utilities of the 21st century
First published in The Des Moines Register, March 10, 2020, by Dave Tucker.
As is ritual every four years, Iowa’s moment at the political epicenter of the United States has wrapped. However, the caucus season’s impact on Iowa’s public discourse will last long after the eventual winner is sworn in as president.
A common theme among presidential candidates in Iowa this past year was denigrating “Big Tech” and calling for a wide-scale overhaul of how our country regulates technology. On some level, they’re not wrong to encourage a fair technology marketplace; we need rules to help us navigate questions that haven’t been answered about the role of new technologies in our private lives and our work lives.
However, we cannot forget the progress we’ve made over the past decade — and the positive impact technology continues to have on our global economy. Policy discussions regarding the future of technology must include the opportunities that tech creates for our local startups and established companies.
What you won’t hear in most candidates’ speeches is that, while many of the tech companies they criticize are located on the coasts, the tools they create are accessible everywhere. Those online platforms are driving a new wave of investment in industry right here in the Midwest.
Workiva, an Ames-based cloud computing software company, is a perfect example of how companies in Iowa have benefited from Big Tech. In 2008, my company, Workiva, set out to create an easier way for businesses to access and control their numbers because the old framework of word processors, email networks and spreadsheets was insufficient. We needed to create a centralized environment in the cloud that could tie them all together.
For a startup, however, building an entire digital infrastructure from scratch was out of the question. So we partnered with Google to harness the power of its “cloud” networks and build our software with their existing online infrastructure. That decision has saved us millions of dollars annually, which allowed us to scale our company faster and more efficiently.
A year after we began partnering with Google, we launched a platform for connected reporting, and our success since then speaks for itself: our annual revenue in 2019 was just shy of $300 million, with nearly 75% of Fortune 500 companies as customers.
Today we are a global company, with customers in over 180 countries. But our roots will always be in Iowa. Our story is a testament to the power of the digital economy as well as a reminder that all businesses must maintain a certain level of tech savvy to succeed in today’s environment.
Online platforms, affordable digital advertising and the ubiquity of social media mean that anyone, anywhere can be an entrepreneur. A person does not have to be an expert computer programmer to use the cloud. Companies can be located anywhere and still reach the world’s biggest markets.
The accessibility of online platforms has fueled the “Silicon Prairie,” making it possible for companies to migrate from crowded costal hubs to untapped manufacturing capitals and open spaces throughout the Midwest. As such, it’s imperative that our elected officials don’t forget about states like Iowa just because their campaigns have moved elsewhere.
Let’s stop branding companies like Google and Amazon as “Big Tech” and simply start seeing them as the computing utilities of the 21st century. Their powerful engines and infrastructure make new businesses possible — businesses that would not have been created without them, and certainly not imaginable 20 years ago.
For the latest news and information, visit the Workiva Newsroom.