The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) is the voice of the Canadian information and communications technologies (ICT) industry. Representing a diverse ICT community the association has a hefty responsibility on its shoulders these days. As Canada emerges from the tempest that was the global economic crisis, the ITAC is focused on resurrecting the country’s digital strategy.
“Many countries, and most of our competitors, have embarked on developing strategies for the digital economy,” says Bernard Courtois, president and CEO.
This strategy encompasses a lot of key elements. Questions being batted around include: Does Canada have the right human resources and the right skills? Will the country be prepared to use technology to drive the economy?
“That is a big challenge for Canada because we have been laggard in terms of using technology to accelerate growth, particularly for small- or mid-size enterprises that are the lifeblood of our economy,” adds Courtois.
The ITAC community
ITAC’s community of companies accounts for more than 70 per cent of the 572,000 jobs, $140.5 billion in revenue, $6.0 billion in R&D investment, $31.4 billion in exports and $11.4 billion in capital expenditures that the ICT industry contributes annually to the Canadian economy.
A key example of the need for a reformative development of Canada’s digital economy can be witnessed in the federal government. The major IT systems are rusting out, leading the way for a concerted plan to replace them. “When you are in the technology industry you know that, from an administrative standpoint, the system is unbelievably out of date and by digitizing it we will solve a lot of our problems,” says Courtois. “There is a lot that is being done but as an industry we have a big responsibility to make sure we complete the job in Canada.”
The federal government has announced that it will review the support it provides for R&D in the country. Since the ICT industry is by far the largest performer of R&D, more than twice any other industrial sector, this is a major step towards successfully surviving the economic downturn.
ITAC is working with the government on a range of files, which Courtois believes will lead the digital strategy into the future. “We are drowned in a sea of issues and demand, so we want to make sure we connect with the right people at the right time so that the message does get across,” he says. “We have to continue to meet with people, talk about what their challenges and priorities are, and see how we can both work together.”
The national association is focused on the future and is all about the things that change Canadians’ daily lives. Two-thirds of its 350-company members are small or mid-sized enterprises. Member forums and sector councils address important issues affecting specific areas of the industry. Through voluntary involvement, members create environments for professional development while, at the same time, addressing matters of broad concern to the industry as a whole.
“We have a lot of committees where we tap the expertise of our members and their desire to help our industry and to volunteer,” explains Courtois. “We have a lot of expert resources available to deal with our top priority issues and the in-depth work that needs to be done on a range of policy file.”
ITAC also connects small and big companies. “The big companies want to help develop our industry,” says Courtois. “They also want to connect to smaller companies in a very innovation, driven industry so they actually need the innovations that smaller companies can generate. The biggest thing to help a small firm in commercialization and innovation is to connect them with a big firm to buy their product or distribute it.”
Shift to a digital economy
The whole notion of the necessity of a fundamental shift to a digital economy is now firmly on ITAC’s expansive shoulders. The association is aiming to help Canadian businesses in all sectors grow through the use of technology. “We have a productivity gap with the U.S. that is essentially caused by the under-use of technology by firms all across the economy,” explains Courtois.
According to Courtois, this 15 per cent productivity gap needs to be closed for Canada to be more prosperous and to aid the government in wiping out the deficit. But there is no silver bullet to solve these problems.
“It is in part caused by the fact that we have a relatively small economy and most small companies sell within their local market,” says Courtois. “We cannot grow the Canadian company ten-fold to be the size of the U.S. so we must replace that by a common direction. We need to talk it up, to tackle this issue the way Canadian’s have shown they can tackle issues amazingly well.
“The most important thing for our industry to grow is skilled people,” he continues. “We have to make sure we continue to look ahead and keep planning together to have the people we need, people who are conversant in information and communications technology in all parts of our economy to make that economy work.”