After two years of studying and consulting, the federal government still says its promised digital economy strategy will be delivered by the end of the year.
But the head of a federal study on innovation says the business sector shouldn’t wait for Ottawa or provinces to lead on the issue.
“We need to turn our psychology around,” Tom Jenkins, executive chairman of Waterloo Ont-based OpenText Corp, told the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto on Wednesday.
“We need to take the lead and invite government (to join us), as opposed to going to Industry Canada and arguing for spectrum and whatever. Which are good arguments to have, but those are point issues. If we want to really deal with a digital Canada, which we all know is about convergence, we have to take the lead.”
A number of countries have created digital strategies based around goals of having broadband infrastructure delivering hundreds of megabits per second download speeds over the next decade.
But there’s no need for the Canadian telecommunications industry and businesses to sit on the sidelines until Ottawa reveals its strategy, Jenkins told a panel discussion called Digital Canada.
For example, he said, OpenText is part of a consortium that helps commercialize Canadian technology globally called the Canadian Digital Media Network. In partnership with the department of foreign affairs, it created the social media platform used by participants at a G20 conference in Canada that continues to be used.
But he also warned that another reason Canadian businesses shouldn’t wait for a federal digital strategy is the country’s falling productivity
Three-quarters of that gap is due to the failure of Canadian businesses to adopt information and communications technologies, he said.
Canadian businesses, he added, have the ability to be world-class – in fact, they have to want to be to close the productivity gap and compete with other countries, he said.
”We can be at the cutting edge internationally and relevant by leveraging what we’ve got together and then applying it internationally,” he said, referring to the G20 infrastructure project.
But, he suggested, many Canadian companies are only strong domestically because they “play by the rules” of getting money from governments.
On the other hand, he was critical of businesses for not working with governments and making sure they understand
“The indictment on this room is we haven’t made it a high enough a priority” to get governments to work with the private sector on digital initiatives, he said.
Asked what can be done over the next 12 months to get an effective national digital strategy, Jenkins said the telecom sector should come up with a convergence strategy
“that is so compelling the Prime Minister came to this conference.”
Other panelists had equally valuable advice. Sean Maskell, president of co-location provider Cologix Canada, suggested taking advantage of Canadian businesses’ reputation for being a slow adaptor of technology. There’s no need to rush to a digital strategy, he said: We should be looking at other countries’ digital plans and adopting the best.
“Leading edge technologies and strategic plans are exciting, but without consumer demand to make use of these innovations, Canadian ICT businesses will is just not be sustained.”
“We should challenge ourselves to step outside our comfort zones to be inspired and to take actions now,” he added.
“We can’t leave anyone behind,” said John Maduri, CEO of Xplornet Communication, which brings fixed and wireless broadband to rural areas. Affordable broadband access for poor and rural Canadians has to be part of any strategy.