What cyber means in Baltimore
It's a like a global epidemic. Cyber has become a prefix used willy-nilly to describe anything that deals even remotely with computers, Information Technology (IT), or the Internet. Its meaning, if it ever had one, has been so diluted that it's up to individual companies, regions, or states to give the word some definition and a meaning that the public can understand.
"Cyber is a word that seems to only be used by those not actually developing technology. The word itself is an artifact from a decade or two ago. These days, the way the media and outsiders tend to use it is in such a broad sense that it could mean anything from security to the internet to hackers," says John Trupiano, president SmartLogic Solutions.
"These 'cyber' companies are really just internet entrepreneurs, service providers, security analysts or experts, etc. It's a blanket term for the myriad of specialties that leverage the Internet," he continues.
So, what does cyber mean in the Greater Baltimore Area?
In its November 2008 report "Information Technology in Greater Baltimore," the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore found that there are some 270,000 employees in the IT market in Baltimore that are divided into two categories, the federal government market and the B2B (business-to-business) market.
Much of the work being done in Maryland in the technology sector deals with developing technologies that will maintain the security of computer networks. The so-called "cyber security" industry has deep roots here that continue to grow as the U.S. Department of Defense shifts resources to the Greater Baltimore area as a result of its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.
"Cyber security and gaming, those are the big two," says Jim Poulous, vice president of Technology Transfer and Commercialization at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO). "There might be a little in healthcare that comes out of Johns Hopkins. Those are the top three."
"We have Fort Meade and the National Security Agency (NSA) and that spawns a lot of small companies doing IT work especially between Baltimore and Laurel. There's a whole corridor of IT development supporting NSA or being spun out of NSA," he continued.
According to Bill Anderson, founder and CEO of Hunt Valley, MD-based Oculis Labs and a security engineer by training, cyber security is the No. 1 computer technology sector in the Greater Baltimore Area.
"I can't think of another information technology sector that is bigger and more important than cyber security in Maryland. You have the NSA and they're huge, but you also have a lot of businesses in the area that are creating new technologies as well. They're the individuals who go to work every day thinking of new products, services, and technologies we can do," he explains.
More than fun and games
Although the average gamer might assume that all games are made in California, digital media and gaming is another major facet in the Greater Baltimore area's computer technology sector. In a report, released in July 2010, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development found that digital media, largely concentrated in Baltimore County with a significant presence in Montgomery County, is a $5.6 billion industry in Maryland that generates a total economic impact of $15 billion. The industry includes the more traditional entertainment-related interactive games, but also encompasses digital modeling, simulation, and serious games for application in the defense, medical, education, and training industries.
"Whenever you tell people there are all these gaming companies in Hunt Valley, they're really surprised. But, they are there," says Ben Walsh, a video game producer and entrepreneur.
The under-the-radar status of the area's digital media industry has made it a little difficult to attract junior talent, but local universities like the Maryland Institute College of Art and University of Baltimore have programs that help solve the problem.
"And because we already have so many companies in the area, they're our pool of veteran talent," Walsh adds, pointing to companies like Firaxis Games, Breakaway Games, Bethesda Softworks, and Big Huge Games that have helped build the industry up over the past three decades.
Young game developers are attracted to the area because of the many lifestyle opportunities available to them here.
"Very few people in the industry in California are homeowners. Here many of the people in the industry own homes because they are a lot more affordable and the cost of living is much lower. It's more family-oriented as well," says Walsh.
According to Walsh, to build up the industry even more, the Greater Baltimore Area needs to foster the creation of new gaming companies with a system of incubators, much like those that have been established for the biotech industry.
"There's the potential for that. For it to happen, many people would need to become involved. The state, county and city government would have to come in and create some incentives to help new companies start. There are companies in Hunt Valley, but there hasn't been much new blood coming into the system. I've been talking with a couple people about that. It is the future."
While information security and gaming are the principle technology industries in the Greater Baltimore area, there are also a bevy of Internet-related companies designing and developing new technologies to run businesses, trade information, market companies, and improve existing products. Companies like R2 Integrated, MP3Car.com, Millennial Media, Fastspot and others have added new dimensions to the technology sector.
"We develop next generation internet and mobile applications for companies. R2I tends to focus more on applications that serve a marketing function. SmartLogic, while doing some business in this area, tends to focus more on applications that serve a core business function, either through e-commerce systems that directly connect a company to its customers or through internal applications that automate some aspect of a business' workflow," says SmartLogic Solutions' Trupiano.
Walaika Haskins is managing editor of Bmore Media. She has lived and worked in Baltimore City for 25 years, taking occasional breaks to live in Paris, New Orleans and New York City, but she always comes back to Baltimore.
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Bill Anderson, CEO of Oculis Labs, Inc. in Hunt Valley. - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Technology used to test the Chameleon software/hardware at Oculis Labs, Inc. - Photo by Arianne Teeple
A display showing the PrivateEye security software - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Mark Komisky, COO, and Bill Anderson talk at a workboard at Oculis Labs, Inc. - Photo by Arianne Teeple
The smartlogic logo - art courtesy of SmartLogic Solutions
Ben Walsh, a video game producer and entrepreneur - Photo by Arianne Teeple
An Innovate Baltimore networking social - photo courtesy of Innovate Baltimore