Developing the Future of IT in Arkansas

The Blue Ribbon Commission

A Note from Governor Asa Hutchinson

In forming this Governor’s Blue-Ribbon Commission to Report on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics, my expectation is to set a guide for the State to respond to the needs of our business community and, in doing so, create career opportunities for our best and brightest young workers to remain in Arkansas and raise our overall state capabilities across industry, higher education, and government to advance and apply the tools of data analytics and computing.

Arkansas is not new to the world of data analytics and computing. We have a history of both successful innovative companies and established industry leaders breaking new ground in the use of advanced computing and data analytics. But we know that the competition around the transformation of Big Data and its applications is stiff, and the stakes are high for our state’s leading industries and future economic prosperity.

Arkansas can be a national leader in data analytics and computing. Our coding initiative is now nationally recognized for its accomplishments, with more than 5,500 high school students participating and a growing cadre of trained teachers certified to sustain the effort far into the future. This success now needs to be carried across industry, government, and higher education.

For Arkansas to succeed, we must work together to raise our capabilities and have a common game plan with a clear vision, mission, and strategic actions to be a national leader. It is this important task that the Blue-Ribbon Commission is being asked to address.

The Commission Vision Statement

Arkansas is a global leader in the transformation of existing industries through the application of data analytics and related computing capabilities (such as machine learning, predictive modeling, and applied data management and visualization) involving the integration of technical and business skills, advancement of talent pipelines and ongoing upgrades to relevant workforce skills.

"Data analytics and computing are at the forefront of a significant new business transformation in the way companies make decisions..."

Executive Summary​

In late March of 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson kicked off the deliberations of his Blue Ribbon Commission to report on the Economic Competitiveness of Arkansas in Data Analytics and Computing (the “Commission”). The Commission is co-chaired by Charles Morgan, CEO of First Orion Corporation and Founder of Acxiom Corporation, and Mike Preston, Executive Director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC). The membership of the Commission draws upon industry executives from many of Arkansas’ leading companies using data analytics and computing to compete across retail, transportation, food processing, agricultural, energy, information technology, and telecommunications sectors with the representation of educational leaders of Arkansas’ higher education systems.

The Commission has set out a “breakout” strategy for Arkansas considering the stakes in the economic competition around data analytics and computing. The unprecedented amount of digital information or Big Data being generated from digitizing of records, online transactions, social networking, Internet searches, and extensive use of sensors and other monitoring technologies are now generating value and competitive business advantage using the tools of data analytics and computing, such as predictive modeling and machine learning algorithms, massive data storage and mining, and data visualization and decision support tools. On its own, the emerging industries providing advanced tools and services in data analytics and related computing will be a nearly $100 billion market in the years to come.

But the economic consequences of data analytics and computing are far greater. Data analytics and computing are at the forefront of a significant new business transformation in the way companies make decisions, design new products and interact with their supply chains and customers in real-time.

Arkansas cannot afford to sit idly by as data analytics and computing transform the way businesses compete in the 21st century. As Mike Preston, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Co-chair of the Blue- Ribbon Commission, explained at the kick-off meeting, “The future of Arkansas’ economic development is tied to our ability to succeed in data analytics and computing. It is a technology that cuts across our leading industries. If we are to succeed in retaining and growing existing jobs and recruiting industry, we have to have the talent and technical capabilities to meet this opportunity.” Charles Morgan, founder and past Chairman and CEO of Acxiom and now Chairman and CEO of First Orion Corporation, who serves as the other Co-chair of the Commission, echoed the concern around measuring up to the talent demands in data analytics and computing. “Software development is totally different now than what it used to be. The best job candidate needs to bring a background in computer science and data analysis, with an understanding of business requirements. A public-private partnership is needed to collaborate in developing the talent we all need in the industry to compete in data analytics and computing. Higher education is a strategic partner, but not necessarily the total solution.”

For Arkansas, the breakout opportunity is to partner with its major existing companies in their efforts to transform their businesses to win in a data-driven, real-time, hyper-consumer-focused marketplace. Data analytics and computing is not merely about an emerging new industry of the future but goes to the basic question of whether Arkansas’ existing industries will stay competitive and be able to generate the high-quality jobs needed to advance the State’s per capita income and standard of living for Arkansans. This is at the heart of the Vision Statement set out by the Commission – data analytics and computing are about existing industries and companies in Arkansas winning in the global marketplace.

The success of Arkansas in advancing its vision of transforming existing industries through data analytics and computing depends upon having a balanced approach of near-term actions that meet industry needs, along with an organizational plan for a sustained public-private partnership effort.

Commission Members

Charles Morgan, Co-Chair

CEO, First Orion Corporation

Mike Preston, Co-Chair

Executive Director, Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Jerry Adams

President & CEO, Arkansas Research Alliance

Don Bobbitt

President, University of Arkansas System

Andrew Clyde

President & CEO, Murphy USA

Ed Drilling

Arkansas State President, AT&T Services, Inc.

John Haley

Co-Chief Investment Officer, The Circumference Group

Todd Hillman

Vice President, MISO Energy South Region

Rich Howe

CEO, Inuvo, Inc.

Sonja Hubbard

CEO, E-Z Mart, Inc.

Clay Johnson

EVP, Enterprise Chief Information Officer, Walmart Stores, Inc.

Jerry Jones

EVP, Acxiom Corporation

Gaylon Lawrence

The Lawrence Group

Maria Markham

Director, Arkansas Department of Higher Education

Monica McGurk

Chief Growth Officer, Tyson Foods

Walter Smiley

Founder & Former CEO, Systematics

Warren Stephens

Chairman, President & CEO, Stephens, Inc.

Chuck Welch

President, Arkansas State University System

Tom Chilton, Staff Director

Director of Division of Science and Technology, Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Be a Part of the Exponential Growth

If you have any questions about the Blue Ribbon Commission or how you can join its efforts, get in touch with us today!