A look back on a year punctuated with crisis… a look ahead with optimism for the ICT industry

by

Bernard Courtois
President/CEO, ITAC

Another new year is upon us; and while some will take this time to focus on setting goals and new beginnings, others will seize the opportunity to reflect on the past year to contemplate lessons learned and how one’s life, and world, have changed. In this seasonal spirit, I thought I would discuss the most pertinent issues and occurrences to affect the ICT industry in 2009, and what I think the industry can expect from 2010 and beyond.

Inevitably, the most notable impact on the ICT industry this year had to be that of the recession driven by the financial crisis. About a year ago, things looked bleak, and governments around the world were driven to stimulate the global economy. Governments became acutely aware of the need to find where economic growth would come from, and as a result, much of their attention was turned toward ICT.

In Canada, this meant that governments turned to ITAC to pursue this. We were active in numerous consultations around the turn of the year and we were very happy to see that January’s Federal Budget devoted nearly $1.5-billion to ICT and knowledge economy related initiatives. In May, we set up a meeting of 15 ICT industry leaders with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement to discuss how to maximize the contribution ICT can make to help Canada recover economically. Minister Clement indicated that he wanted to develop a “whole of government” digital economy action plan and would be convening a conference in Ottawa on this topic. We were glad to see that both the Prime Minister and Minister Clement understood the importance of ICT and the digital economy to the future of Canada and the need to be a leader in this area.

In the months that followed, we met with a broad range of Federal Cabinet ministers to discuss this “whole of government” strategy and were very heartened at the positive feedback we received in terms of support for the overall strategy and of the roles many of them had to play.

In the early months of 2009, many provincial budgets also included significant investments to support the financing of tech ventures, notably in Québec. In Ontario and in British Columbia, the governments undertook to harmonize the provinces’ sales taxes with the GST. While this involves some degree of disruption and controversy it is an extremely positive measure in terms of attracting and growing investment and something that we in the ICT industry had been advocating for some time.

I would also add that while ITAC typically partners with provincial associations across Canada, it also serves as the provincial ICT association in Ontario. We have been working with Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sandra Pupatello to update the ICT strategy for Ontario that we worked on with her in 2007 in order to maximize investment and job growth. We helped Minister Pupatello host a first roundtable of ICT industry leaders in Toronto in November. Further roundtables will take place in Waterloo and Ottawa. Minister Pupatello is a strong and effective champion for our industry. Premier McGuinty and the Ontario Government generally recognize the fundamental importance of ICT and of the knowledge economy for the future of Ontario.

In terms of the private sector, a major lesson from this past year is that even though people had to postpone spending on everything, including ICT, the role of ICT was still cemented as essential infrastructure. Companies could not hold off long on ICT spending, as they realized it would cost more not to spend on ICT than it would to start investing again. Many companies learned that strategic reorganization through better use of ICT could both save money, and create improved business models. In the ICT industry itself, many firms maintained, or even grew, their profits during this recession by altering their business models, creating what we can call a ‘lower cost engine,’ with which they can now build more profitable growth.

We also plan on continuing to work hand in hand with the Canadian ICT Federation in 2010, to help do whatever we can to build a strong foundation in Canada upon which ICT SMEs can grow. I believe SMEs are extremely important to the ITC industry, and we will be working on our own plans and with the Federation to support their growth.

Finally, a reflection on 2009 would not be complete without a discussion of eHealth. As such, I would like to point out two key lessons to be learned from the challenges, successes, and controversies associated with eHealth.

First, the difficulties with eHealth this year had nothing to do with eHealth itself, but rather the basic blocking and tackling in managing procurement and staffing practices. But this did cast a pall over the whole notion of eHealth, and it stalled the progress of eHealth. Not only is this not good for patients or for the sustainability of our healthcare system, it has also meant that some firms in our sector, especially SMEs, suffered greatly as a result.

Nonetheless, successful eHealth projects improved the responsiveness and cost effectiveness of our healthcare system in 2009. The Ontario Auditor General and the Auditor General of Canada strongly re-affirmed the importance of implementing eHealth. And the associations representing doctors, nurses and pharmacists publicly emphasized how important it is for the future of our healthcare system to get on with the job of eHealth.

Now, with a fresh decade upon us, it is time to turn our heads 180 degrees, shifting our focus onto what lessons we have learned from this past year, and how these lessons will educate how the industry thinks and operates.

Looking ahead, I see a variety of countries placing the digital economy at the heart of economic and social strategies, and I am glad that our federal government has agreed that Canada should do so as well. I am looking forward to those strategies, and hope to hear more about them during both the Speech from the Throne and the Budget Speech, this coming March.

Finally, I would like to note that Canada will be hosting the G8 and the G20 in June of this year, and we expect a number of countries to come to the table with this notion, that ICT and the digital economy is core to the future of the global economy. Notably, Europe had their i2010 strategy, which will be updated to i2015, so I would expect Europe to promote the concept of ICT as foundational to a strong global economy, and I am certainly counting on our Canadian government to do the same.

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