The musketeers are now five. The CEOs at last month’s Internet World 2000 roundtable in Toronto saw pretty much eye to eye on the status and future of Canadian e-commerce.
Painting a rather bright picture of Canada and the Internet, all the participants said there is much for Canadians to be proud of but that much work still lies ahead. They fielded four questions from a moderator and then answered questions from the audience.
The five participants were: Shahla Aly, vice-president, e-business services, IBM global services; Stephen Bartkiw, CEO, AOL Canada; J. Tal Bevan, vice-president and country manager, UUNET; Ron Close, president, NETCOM, Canada; and Wendy Muller, general manager, DoubleClick Canada. The moderator was John Strackhouse, partner, Heidrick & Struggles.
What choices do consumers have about protecting their privacy?
Muller: It is important that people understand how complicated a procedure privacy issues can be, but how simple it is to actually go through the steps to decline and opt out of giving personal information to a site. DoubleClick feels privacy issues are very important and we were the first to offer universal opt out. It is necessary to give consumers a choice and to respect sensitive information. If information is gathered the customer should get some value for it in terms of relevant targeted advertising. I have seen surveys that say 60 per cent of users either never or sometimes read privacy policies. DoubleClick believes the internet should always be free, and in order to be free, there will have to be things like advertising.
Bartkiw: There are plenty of tools to help protect privacy, including what is included with many browsers. To a very large degree, rest assured, the consumer is being very well protected. There is comfort knowing the government is looking out for you. The necessary legislation is in place to make sure consumers have the same privacy on-line that they have off-line.
Is the Canadian brain drain real? What will the economic impact and ultimate effects be on the Canadian economy?
Close: Regardless of whether or not it is a real thing, there are a number of factors that influence it. One of them is that the tax situation south of the border, of course, is more attractive. But overall, once you take into account cost of housing, health insurance and that sort of thing the standard of living is pretty much the same. Here in Canada, one missing ingredient is the networking element between kindred people at other companies and the ability to connect with each other. There is also (the question of) access to funding and capital south of the border. As a Canadian entrepreneur, it behoves you to get connections to people in Silicon Valley. Also, the market south of the border is 10 times the size and full of earlier adopters, so you get some easier capital and some better networking and perhaps some advantages on taxes.
Bevan: One of the things we tend to lose sight of is that, in the Internet space, we are exceptionally fortunate. As we recruit people we are absolutely delighted by the quality of the people we see. When I talk to colleagues who are not in the Internet space they are feeling tremendous pressure. We have been lucky enough in Canada to build an Internet industry which is at the forefront of what is happening in the world. As a result, people are staying in our industry longer (in Canada) than you might expect. In other areas of the high-tech industry it may be more of an issue but I think where we sit does make a difference.
Aly: Despite the fact we are one of the most connected countries in the world we are lagging behind the United States. It is not as easy to get capital and venture capital in Canada. We also don’t have e-business clusters around Canada, and what this boils down to, from a talent perspective, is in the end people do work for money but they really like to have jobs that they enjoy and if you don’t have those e-business clusters it is difficult. When I go to a small venture capitalist meeting in a small town in the U.S. 400 people show up. Here, under the same circumstances, it is hard to get 40 to come to a small town to talk about e-business.
Muller: I want to add a bit about Ron’s comments on networking. I sometimes see very hefty prices to participate in some of the trade shows, gatherings and conferences. So I would challenge the companies to come forward with newer ideas and to try and spread this kind of networking. This will allow people to understand how exciting some of the Canadian companies are and what they are looking at from a future perspective, and that will keep people here.
Where is B2B heading on the ‘net and what is the next big wave to hit the Internet?
Aly: Let me start with the second question. There will be myriads of devices. The whole aspect of pervasive computing is the next big wave, where people will be accessing the net using a myriad of devices, not just their PCs, and suddenly we will see a whole crowd of people coming to the ‘net. We also see business to business becoming really big in the arena of trading networks, with the power of aggregate buying.
Close: Certainly access remains a pretty vibrant and very rapidly growing part of the internet. Hosting is also an area of future growth, managed hosting, server co-location and even application service providing, the idea of paying to rent software that is not core to the need of a company. On the e-business side there is a lot of room for e-tailing but B2B procurement looks to be the area gaining [the most]. If I can go into a vertical portal or a small business portal, I can reduce my cost of indirect or direct procurement pretty significantly.
Bartkiw: Regarding alternative distribution, as this medium starts to reach the mass market consumer…you will find consumers are interacting with one another trough a myriad of devices. Today you can get your AOL mail on a Palm Pilot. If you get TV from satellite you can also get Internet services that way. Wireless phones are also a very large element.
What are some exiting examples of Canadian companies which are taking advantage of explosive e-business opportunities?
Muller: Chapters, Corel with Linux.
Close: President’s Choice financial product. Weston and Loblaws working with CIBC.
Bevan: chariots.com, on-line car purchasing.
Bartkiw: Financial institutions. Pretty much all of them have done a stellar job of developing alternative distribution channels for their products and services, making it easier for consumers to do their banking.
Aly: happypaws.com, a BC pet food store; warrantynet.com, a warranty manager; roots.com.
What about the security issue?
Bartkiw: Any significant e-commerce undertaking is likely to have redundant infrastructure to help protect it from hacker attacks. AOL has redundant hosting centres. In this industry we have a lot of growing up to do. There is a lot of maturation that has to take place, but you should contrast the uptime of all of the millions of sites around the world and compare it to the downtime. It is not even a blip.
Aly: There has been a lot of the focus recently on bandwidth increases and these attacks will help use reinforce the need for security.