The Springs: Cyber Capitals and Cooperative Resources

By in COSIT, Cyber, Op Ed

Every week you see a new headline about the growth of the cybersecurity industry in Colorado Springs.

root9b now ranks No. 1 among U.S. cybersecurity companies. Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the UCCS National Cyber Intelligence Center. The Air Force Academy announced its innovation center, as well as the development of Air Force Cyber Squadrons. Catalyst Campus received a grant to develop a cybersecurity and space-based research and development lab/operations center.

If it seems like this is a “new thing,” I assure you it is not. Cybersecurity has a natural home in our city. We have three military bases whose missions keep them at the forefront of the global war on cyber terrorism and organized cyber crime. We have more than 60 companies locally serving in the industry; and we have four colleges and universities that are nationally recognized for their cyber education degrees and programs.

Colorado Springs’ prominence in cybersecurity did not happen overnight. While this is “new” news for many in our great city, cybersecurity is an established industry that is finally being recognized for its position in the regional, national and even global landscape.

By its very nature, the cybersecurity industry — including the companies and professionals that do the work — generally tend to be secretive about what they do and how they do it. They work in the digital shadows and prefer to avoid the spotlight (unlike their devious counterparts committing the crimes).

But in recent years cybersecurity firms have been forced into the limelight (for better or for worse) as our citizenry had their lives rocked with identify theft, as well as the very public and “oh-so-very-embarrassing” hacks of companies like Ashley Madison, Anthem, Sony, Home Depot, eBay, Target and (cringe) the U.S. Office of Personnel Management data breach of 2014-2015.

Those hacks are clear indicators the status quo of “hardware for protection” is not enough. The industry is seeing exponential demand for top human talent — the critical part of the cybersecurity equation that requires a human to understand a human — something the robots and hardware can’t always account for or successfully predict.

As a result, the industry has an incredible growth trajectory here and elsewhere. By incredible, I mean that the industry is expected to grow more than $100 billion in the next five years.

To put that into perspective, the Colorado Springs 2015 gross domestic product was roughly $30 billion. Now imagine three or four cities with the economic impact equal that of Colorado Springs suddenly appearing on the global horizon in the next five years.

Did that sink in? Now remind yourself that we are talking about that type of growth in a single industry. And then remind yourself of the three military bases, 60 companies and four universities in Colorado Springs focused on that industry, and all the people they employ and the people their employees hire with their private spending.

As a city and community with a long-standing history in the market, we must take note.

I want to see far more than our fair share of the $100 billion industry growth occur in the Colorado Springs market during the next five years. I want to see Colorado Springs become a primary international destination and resource for the cybersecurity industry, supplying thought leadership, innovation and human talent.

These are bold goals. We have a good start, but there is still a lot of work to do. It will take a combined, collaborative effort. All ships rise or fall with the tide.

We ought to be incredibly proud and unabashedly celebrate our recent local big wins and our local stars shining at a national level. We need to further invest our money, time, thought, effort and energy into this industry to ensure more big wins and more local stars in the near future and to ensure it is supported at all levels of the private, public, press, government and educational sectors.

And we ought to be sure we are not looking at each other as internal threats, but as powerful collaborative resources. We need to share ideas, information, best practices, challenges, opportunities, wins and losses.

I am not an idealist. But I have consistently seen collaboration overcome where individual talent alone could not. There are people who will only take and never give back. Those bad actors will quickly identify themselves and marginalize themselves by how they treat others.

There is competition between companies and individuals. That is healthy. It spurs improvement and frequently reveals new solutions and opportunities.

But what is not healthy is thinking the pie is smaller than it is or thinking that we are combative enemies. We need to keep sight of the bigger $100 billion picture and focus on collaborating and growing the cybersecurity industry locally and within Colorado as a whole.

This post was originally printed in the colorado springs business journal. Brad T. Bird is the director of brokerage for CBRE in Colorado Springs and co-chairman for COSIT (cosit.co), a tech industry advocate and public policy group. He can be reached at brad.bird@cbre.com.

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