PEI government benefits from joint technology initiative

Prince Edward Island may best be known as Anne Shirley’s beloved home – a simple place far removed from the modern world – but the fast-paced world of high-tech has not left it behind.

A new technology initiative involving three companies and the government of Prince Edward Island will create 73 jobs in the high-tech field, which is the fastest growing job sector on the island.

The $15.5-million, four-year deal, struck by the government, GE Capital Information Technology Solutions Inc., Island Tel Advanced Solutions (ITAS) and DeltaWare Systems, is a just small part of the government’s plans to create 800 technology jobs in the next two years.

The plan, if successful, will give PEI a chance to diversify its economy and create stable jobs. PEI’s major industries – agriculture, tourism and fishery – are all seasonal affairs, making winters especially tough for Islanders.

“When we have a job creation effort that creates any amount of jobs that are full-time, year-round jobs, that is something we certainly like to see,” said Ministry of Technology and Environment deputy minister Bill Drost in Charlottetown.

Under the first part of the three-part deal, the government will lease approximately 5,000 computers from GE Capital in Ottawa, a division of General Electric Co. In return for that $8.4 million deal, GE has promised to spend $5 million in purchasing goods and services from Island-based companies.

GE is one of the largest purchasers of computers in the world and the leasing arrangement will give the government an opportunity to capitalize on GE’s purchasing power, explained Drost.

The government will receive computers at a lower cost than before and in return PEI companies will have an opportunity to do business with a large multi-national corporation, Drost said.

“It’ll help our companies in Prince Edward Island get their foot in the door of a very large world-based company,” he said.

For GE, it’s a chance “to open up a market place we weren’t involved in,” explained Garth Scully, vice-president and general manager of the Atlantic region at GE Capital.

The second part of the deal entails an agreement to have Charlottetown-based ITAS manage the province’s three wide area networks as well as its province-wide broad band network. The government hopes that with the $3 million outsourcing deal for the management of its networks it will be able to better predict downtime on its networks and manage traffic, and be able to remotely diagnose problems instead of having to physically send someone to the field.

“We have recognized for a long time in the government that we would need some increased network management services and someone to help us with some of the network management issues that we’ve been dealing with,” Drost said.

The government also hopes that the opportunity will create a footing for ITAS to launch into the private sector. Until now ITAS has provided network management services only for its parent company.

Using the government as an anchor client, ITAS hopes to expand its business. “Clearly having a customer the size of the province of Prince Edward Island gives us the opportunity to expand those services and set up a full-fledged enterprise network management shop. It really does provide us with the core skills to launch into a new business area,” said ITAS president Ron Waite.

The last part of the deal is an agreement to purchase $4 million worth of support for its Oracle database over four years from DeltaWare Systems in Charlottetown. DeltaWare will in return create an Oracle competency centre jointly with ITAS to offer Oracle-based solutions to Island businesses. The start-up costs for the centre will be around $3 million, Waite said.

The government, which has deployed 52 public Internet access sites across the province, also has plans to make Islanders feel at home in the world of high tech.

“If people are going to live in a culture whereby they feel comfortable working in a knowledge economy, they have to have the exposure of those tools around them,” Drost said.

“Once you have your consumer base that is connected to the Internet, then you can move into higher forms of information technology deployment, such as electronic government and electronic commerce,” he said.