Competitive Edge

I have the honour to work with some amazing people with ITAC, the Information Technology Association of Canada. In a recent meeting, discussion ensued about maintaining Canada’s ability to compete globally. We also heard from industry speakers on the challenges that they are facing hiring people into IT roles.

This clarified for me a couple of points I’d like to share with you. While our tendency to be conservative can protect us against unpleasant surprises, as a business IT has changed fundamentally. Software and hardware companies share customers amongst ourselves and promulgating a homogeneous model doesn’t work. Nor does a heterogeneous environment where making the components work together is difficult. It’s impossible to achieve scale and return if it’s too hard.

In order to be competitive and to increase our odds, the Canadian IT community needs to think differently. We will not be able to hire new workers if all we present to them is the same old static desktop, static applications and death by email surge. New workers expect and demand the same kind of framework they see in their private lives, where in addition to documents, there is new media, there are blogs, wikis, discussion forums and simple web based access points. A telephone should not be a completely separate and unintegrated system. These new hires understand the differences between synchronous and asynchronous interactions and expect a full set of tools to facilitate interaction.

People don’t have to be in a specific place to get work done, or even in a particular time structure. The success of the Blackberry and some of the new concerns about being always on have proved this. If we expect the future to look like a commute to an office, 9-5 on static infrastructure, followed by a commute home, we are doomed to a nasty surprise. This isn’t how emerging markets are building and it’s not how our new employees want to work.

Business Social Networking has turned into an industry buzzword, and not in a good way. Most of these end up looking like the same old proprietary infrastructure with a web front end stuck on with duct tape. We as an industry need to get outside our comfort zones on how we actually help people be productive and happy. If we don’t the hiring problem and the IT gap is only going to get worse.

The second point I want to review is the subject of gap. Don’t believe for a minute those who tell you there is no IT gap. They are engaging in fun with stats, what I call Jolly Numbers. Post secondary IT admissions are down, in some schools by a factor of 10. While we increase immigration of skilled people to fill jobs, we also need to look at the jobs that are going to need filling in the short to medium future and we need to be enabling those future role leaders today. And that means we have to make IT fun and exciting.

As a speaker recently pointed out, the sciences got a huge influx when John Kennedy made his put a man on the moon speech. We need to create that sense of excitement in IT. Adding twenty new functions to a spreadsheet that already has nine hundred that most people never use creates neither excitement or innovation.

I don’t think the sky is falling, but Canadian IT is at a crossroads. We can keep doing what we’ve been doing and get the same (at best) results we’ve always gotten, or we can choose to think differently and strive together to make Canada an innovator in IT development and practices. In my opinion, the first option isn’t one.

Until next time, peace.


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