Public sector leading technology charge: report

The Canadian public sector has a slight edge over private sector enterprises in terms of technology change and support, according to a recent report. The Statistic Canada report, Technology change in the public sector, examines the adoption rate of information and communication technologies between 2000-2002.

StatCan researcher Louise Earl noted that between 2000 and 2002, 82 per cent of government organizations polled purchased or acquired new technology. In the private sector, this figure was 42 per cent.

And not all of the technological growth within the public sector was related to Y2K. Where public sector organizations also lead, according to Earl, is in refreshing their software and hardware technology in a continual basis. For groups adopting IT, purchasing off-the-shelf technologies was the most common practice in both the public (86 per cent) and private (81 per cent) sectors.

The public sector also appears to have a huge lead (94 per cent) when it comes to providing staff training on the new technologies. Only 56 per cent of the private sector organizations polled provided such programs.

But Barry Gander, executive director for the Ottawa-based IT group Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA), points out that before any immediate conclusions are drawn from the report, private sector spending for the previous two decades should be taken into account. Gander notes that in those years it was the private sector that was driving technological change and adoption.

The report actually found that when organizations of similar size were compared, there’s little difference between the rates of technology adoption between public and private sector companies, Gander said.

“This, of course, means that large organizations are the same regardless of sector. The government doesn’t tend to have smaller companies, so in this category the public sector would of course lead.”

Bernard Courtois, Ottawa-based president for the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), agreed and noted that the time period in question was also a time where organizations were experiencing the fallout from the technology bubble bursting.

The relationship between the private and public sector has always been about “ebbs and flows,” Courtois said.

“That was a period where the private sector started to slow down in investment and government filled the gap a little bit in the Canadian economy,” Courtois said.

During the two year span, licensing new technologies was the second most popular method of acquiring technology. This occured 63 per cent of the time in the public sector. The private sector overall, however, lagged far behind with just 18 per cent licensing new technologies. This suggests that the that costs associated with this form of acquiring new technology may discourage private sector firms, especially smaller firms from doing so, according to Earl.

All things considered, the public sector should always be at or near the leading edge of technology change, Courtois noted. But the government also has certain limitations that private enterprise do not, Courtois added. In the private sector a CEO can order that technology becomes centralized and services standardized, allowing companies to move forward; in the public sector this would require a certain amount of diplomacy and determination, he said.

Additionally, thelooming federal election has placed both sectors in a holding pattern, Courtois said.

In the meantime “everyone is sort of betwixt and between.”