Canada 3.0 event looks to attract IT pros

IT professionals looking to debate future Canadian digital media policies and the role educational institutions can play in the new digital economy should attend next month’s Canada 3.0 Forum in Stratford, Ont., event organizers say.

The inaugural event, which takes place June 8 and 9 at the University of Waterloo’s new Stratford Institute, will feature speakers from academia, government and private sector.

The conference is also being hosted by the newly established Canadian Digital Media Network, which was given $10.7 million in federal funding earlier this year in order to foster collaboration between researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers on pressing digital media issues.

The biggest reason for IT leaders to attend, according to conference planners, is for the opportunity to interact with key government players and help Canada continue to thrive as a global digital media powerhouse.

“You get to come and influence policy,” said Tom Jenkins, CDMN chairman and Open Text Corp.’s chief strategy officer. “A lot of people in Canada complain: ‘Why is the CRTC doing this or why is the province doing that?’ If private sector wants to have a voice, I can’t think of a better time to express that voice.”

“Anybody that touches digital media or social networking in their day-to-day work lives would be crazy not to be here,” he added.

Sessions will be held across four streams including building digital infrastructure, mobility and media, digital media research and commercialization and skills development. Every stream will focus on the role private and public sector can play moving forward and how these organizations can derive value from digital media.

Featured attendees and speakers include Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson, TV Ontario CEO Lisa de Wilde and Minister of Government Services Ron McKerlie.

Ken Coates, dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Waterloo, said the ability to get all stakeholders in the Canadian digital and social media landscape together in one room is extremely rare and will bring strong value to attendees.

“The digital media space moves incredibly fast and the competitive environment shifts on a monthly basis it seems,” he said. “The challenge for anybody in the field is to figure out where things are going and what new technologies are arriving. This even allows you to find out what’s going on and connect with people at the cutting edge.”

One topic which should be hotly debated at the conference is Canada’s strategy for digitizing all of its content.

“Most Canadians don’t realize that we’ve only got one per cent of all content in the country in digital format,” Jenkins said. “The other 99 per cent is sitting in stacks collecting dust in vaults at the CBC, CTV and Global and other places like that.”

And digitizing the content sitting in government, libraries, media organizations and academic institutions is only one part of the strategy, he said, adding that finding ways to benefit from the content is also needed.

“The Obama administration has already signaled loud and clear how important this is,” Jenkins said. “They’re going to start with health records, but just the way Obama ran his campaign shows that he understands the power of digital networks.”

Canada’s early strength in the digital media realm could decline fairly quickly if these issues are not addressed, Coates added.

In addition to discussing Canadian policy, conference goers will also be able to interact with academic leaders and work on ways to better prepare young people for digital media careers, said Kevin Tuer, managing director at CDMN and the co-chair of the conference’s digital media research and commercialization stream.

“It’s all well and good for individual companies to look at their place in the value chain, but we also need to examine the future generation of our workforce,” he said.

Open Text became one of the sponsors of the new Stratford Institute because it couldn’t find enough people to hire that have the cross-skill sets needed in the new digital economy.

“They need to know how to develop a plot line, and set up the lighting and sound, but at the same time, they need to have coding experience,” Jenkins said. “We hope the Stratford campus graduates students that specialize in those disciplines and that’s why Canada 3.0 is located there.”

For Coates, training students for a particular field was much easier 30 years ago, as most companies worked in a fairly predictable and structured manner. Today, social and digital media is driving changes in the world so quickly and in an unstructured fashion, which has led to the need for new ways of teaching.

“Is the lecture format the right way to go, can we bring in more project-based teachings, how do we develop a real independence of mind within the student population, what is the balance of technical proficiency and creativity needed,” Coates asked. “Those are questions we often ask in isolation and if you wanted to summarize the idea of Canada 3.0, it’s basically listening to each other and creating a common strategy.”

“It’s really hard to say to the private sector that we’re doing what you want if you haven’t spoken to the private sector,” he added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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