Why Canada needs to lead, not follow, the IT transformation journey

The disruption of businesses and entire industries may be inevitable, but the way savvy executives respond to the challenges is not

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You might not know what NAV Canada is, but if you’ve ever gotten on a plane and flown anywhere within/from/to this country, it’s NAV Canada’s civil air navigation system that gets you there safely. Consider how essential the network that links NAV Canada’s systems together is to the safe movement of passengers and cargo from A to B.

Today, corporate Canada depends on IT for its day-to-day existence — there are new businesses wholly based on IT — but at the same time our firms seem to have trouble navigating their way through technological change.

To some extent, it is understandably difficult to keep up with the way IT has advanced. Ten years ago the iPhone didn’t exist. Today, mobile data in all its forms is a dominant trend in business as well as everyday personal communication. How long can you be away from your “phone”? File sharing technology was not invented to disrupt the recording industry, but the adoption of this technology by consumers led to a revolution in the way we access, purchase and share music and video. From Tangerine Bank to Amazon, the advancements in technology, in speed, in storage capability and in cloud technology are making businesses more successful, more cost-efficient and expanding their geographic reach.  They are doing things differently.

In the recent past companies may have been able to put off investments in new technologies, but in today’s world your competitors can steal your customers almost overnight by adopting the technology that allows them to refashion their business to better suit customer demands– and leave you in the dust.  It’s called disruptive innovation.  Just ask Kodak, Blockbuster Video or a map maker…that is if you can find someone who once worked there…how it feels.

The problem is, Canadian businesses have actually under-invested in technology or invested in technology later than businesses in the U.S. According to a recent Deloitte survey, for example, more than a third of Canadian businesses don’t even realize they are underinvesting in IT. Survey after survey also shows that Canadian workers are less productive than their American counterparts. Look at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which reports that Canadian businesses are only 80 percent as productive as our U.S. counterparts. Another recent survey shows that for every dollar U.S. businesses spend on IT Canadian businesses invest 59 cents. Or look at specific areas like SIP trunking, where Canadian businesses are about three years behind the U.S. in their adoption of a technology that can reduce costs a phenomenal 40 per cent and improve operations.

IT departments must become more agile and follow what users need to do or want to do, rather than prescribe it. At Allstream, we’ve learned a similar lesson. Previously we sold to CIOs or the telecom department. We still talk with CIOs, but more often we talk with businesses more broadly. We once talked about the technical attributes of the service – and they were what they were, not something that could be highly customized. We would educate customers on how they should use and measure our services. Today, customers tell us we are measured on their business terms and how we contribute to their long-term success.

We are making  the change. So will many other Canadian organizations eventually, because they’re already on this journey whether they realize it or not. Better to start charting the course now before you can’t find a map.

Adapted from a speech delivered to the Vancouver Board of Trade, June, 2014. 

photo credit: caribb via photopin cc

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  1. Mike, thanks for sharing. Working here in the states for Spiceworks “where IT goes to work” I’m a bit ashamed that the stats you mentioned about Canadian under-investment in IT were all new to me personally. It’s especially concerning given the internet of everything is already upon us; it’s moving business forward rapidly and efficiently, and giving rise to more security risks along the way that absolutely must be tended to.
    Armed with the knowledge you’ve shared here, we hope to work even closer with your team to educate Canadian IT pros and help Allstream chart the course for the future or Canadian IT.

    Chris / 9 years ago


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