April 7, 2011

Digital Economy Strategy

As I might have shared in the past, I'm on the board of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). Our mission, among other things, is to understand our overall competitiveness as a country and foster the use of ICT in all sectors of our economy, both public and private. We have been working on a proposal to the powers that might be in government on the hill called Digital Economy Strategy (DES).

I'm calling on you to reach out to our fearless politicians to ask them about it and what they intend to do about this huge oversight in the making. The ICT industry is a big part of the Canadian economy, but it can be a lot bigger. Let them hear our voice! Whoever you will be voting for, get the digital economy strategy on their radar. Here are their twitter handles: pmharper, M_ignatieff, jacklayton, GillesDuceppe, and ElizabethMay

Today I'm posting to raise the awareness of DES because I think it matters to everyone in Canada much more than we realize. The population in general in Canada is drunk on the success of our natural resources. Canada is so rich in natural resources that our government is ignoring the digital economy.

Canada has huge challenges in this regard:
  • Chronic underinvestment in information and communication technologies in all sectors and layers of the economy. Compared to our American business equivalent, we underinvest to the tune of 15% to 70%.
  • Our own government as a model user, or lack of model user I should say.
  • Building a world class infrastructure; although it much more than just broadband, we actually used to lead in broadband adoption.
  • Building the digital skills for tomorrow and our demographic challenges.
Our productivity as a nation depends greatly on our adoption of information technologies at all levels. We can't depend on a low dollar anymore. Our resource rich soil has taken care of our loonie. We have to invest to be competitive.

Our government has a role to play in helping our companies, especially our small and medium companies, adopt information technologies. I hate to use Walmart as an example, but here it's a good one. When Walmart decides it will no longer buy from companies whose systems can't connect to Walmart systems in a certain way, all its suppliers upgrade their information systems to comply period. The federal government could help Canadian businesses be the most advanced businesses in the world regarding information systems by doing the same thing, although not as drastically! The federal government could employ encouraging measures to use the newer systems, by paying less taxes if businesses decide to do so. I'm sure there are many other ways.

Our government has a responsibility to encourage more Canadian innovation. It is doing various things and yet misses the most important. It needs to open its door more to Canadian companies' technologies. It is absolutely impossible for our companies to sell their products to our own government because it takes so long it dies in the process. To be fair, a small step has been achieved, thanks to ITAC. In the last budget a very very small fraction of the overall buying budget was made available for managers to cut through the red tape and allow for smaller companies to get its products in demonstration mode.

Our government needs to understand that infrastructure is an enabler. This is more than broadband, and broadband 10x the download rate we now have access to is about to become a mere necessity! To get out of the economic crisis, extreme spending measures were taken to build roads and other infrastructure projects. There is a lot of ICT infrastructure to build in our country and yet not a single dollar was made available for those projects. It could have been a great opportunity to engage in upgrading some of those systems that are running on hardware that can't be serviced anymore and so darn expensive to maintain from a software standpoint because they are still punch cards!

Our government has to wake up to the fact that getting kids to go into science is a must for the economic strength of our future as a nation! The more businesses that are started and developed in Canada, the better off we are. To start businesses, we need people willing to start those businesses. It takes a special type of person to start a business; someone who sees a problem and sets out to resolve it. Who are the best trained problem solvers you might ask? As it so happens there is a direct correlation between the number of graduates from engineering schools in a country and the number of entrepreneurs a country produces. Let's get on the get on!

Call our politicians on it!


Anonymous said...

Great post. I recently applied for Startup Chile and I see the problem of over reliance on resources to be a shared one. However, they have smartly created a strategy to be the innovation hub of Latin America. We have not come to the realization that we need a plan b also.

C. Paul Slaby said...

These are great ideas. I would like to add one more: build up an effective high-tech lobby by inviting local MPs, MPPs, etc to our industry events. How often do you see politicians attending our gatherings? Most of the time we are preaching to the converted (us). This needs to change and it is up to us to change it.

Frederic Boulanger said...

@ C. Paul Slaby - this is very true, one thing I also realize more and more is we need to communicate those ideas in terms of benefits to their voters.