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In collaboration with DX Agents, the CIO Association of Canada recently conducted a survey to understand CIO and CFO attitudes and organizational preparation for digital transformation.  The results demonstrate that some of our largest companies are squandering opportunities to take global leadership in tech. This failure to act has already affected our retail sector, and if not addressed, may have a significant negative effect on our future economy: one where heavyweights like China, the US and Russia fight it out for dominance in AI and other emerging fields. “We have twenty rapidly accelerating technologies right now, something that has never happened before in human history.”  (TechCrunch, 2017)

The survey results, presented in a recent webinar, show a yawning gap between the existing pillars of Canadian industry and Canada’s much vaunted, highly celebrated, and successful start-up community. The implications are significant: Canadian tech start-up business innovation, with a few notable exceptions, has not trickled up to industry.  If not addressed, competitiveness will suffer, if it has not already.  You can access the webinar recordingfinal report and the slide deck.

The results should not be a surprise, but the extent to which we are at risk may be. For years, organizations like the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), through Adam Chowaniec, a technology visionary and passionate Canadian who wrote extensively on the topic, and Lynda Leonard, a former ITAC vice president, (read more on ITAC’s work in this area) have warned against the hollowing out of Canadian industry, visible in IPO patterns and acquisitions. IDC and SAP data showed an ambivalence in Canada about digital disruption in 2016 and 2017, a slowness to transform, with only gradual improvement.

This data shows that there is another, deeper issue: complacency at home even in our titans. We see the effects across the country, and increasingly outside of it as well: retailers closing, (Financial Post 2017) or being bought up, the looming threat of Amazon like a cloud (no pun intended) hanging over Canadian retail, job losses in traditional industries, the growth of companies like WeWork, and a continued slowing of domestic IPO activity. However, these are not the primary issues highlighted in our report. The question raised is this: if the Canadian leaders of industry miss out on benefits available from the Canadian tech boom, and fail to become competitive on a global scale, what are the implications on our economy? Are there enough upstarts in the wings to pick up the slack? Until the gap between tech start-ups and industry giants begins to close, we could be in for a challenging era competitively. On a more positive note, new models for innovation and transformation success suitable to an economy now 10th in the world are emerging. These models position Canada as a greenhouse and testbed for innovative technologies and products; a market rather than an enterprise innovation leader. There is a brass ring available if we want to go for it, but something greater than limited ambition will be required on the part of both the public and private sectors.  

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