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- While Canada is investing heavily in research and development in emerging technologies, it is falling behind when it comes to the commercialization of that research. Adequate policies, economic incentives and standards are necessary to commercialize research results.
- Designing and implementing standards is critical to Canada’s success as a digital economy. Standards provide benchmarks that allow interoperability and the ability to augment existing technologies. With the appropriate standards in place, companies are in a position to accelerate the adoption of new technologies.
- A significant and important opportunity for Canada is in the digital transformation of our existing, well-established sectors, such as mining, energy, agriculture, forestry and health. If we do not apply leading digital technologies and practices to these sectors, we risk losing our global competitiveness within them.
Canada must invest in the development of consensus-based standards. This will enable our future economy to keep pace with innovation and remain globally competitive by providing the marketplace with the certainty it requires to adopt the technologies needed to digitally transform all sectors of the Canadian economy.
How do you rank Canada and its international competitiveness in the digital economy, and what are our strengths and weaknesses? Is it realistic to think that Canada could be a leader in digital technology?
As Canadians we are blessed with a wealth of knowledge and a vast array of organizations and leaders who are contributing to the future economy. From my perspective and from my interactions with Chief Information Officers (CIO) from across the country, both within the public and private sector, it is clear that a key to remaining competitive globally is to harness digital talent and skill. We need to create a space for innovation to flourish, and to ensure we are tapping into our full potential nationally.
Canada invests heavily into research. Take, for example, artificial intelligence (AI). We as a country have invested heavily into AI research and development, and we have amazing talents helping to drive this research forward. But where Canada is leading in research, we are falling behind in commercialization of the technologies that stem from our research. This is where we have work to do. But bridging the gap between research and commercialization requires a hard look at the policies, incentives and creation of standards to be able to commercialize research results. Doing so would help to keep intellectual property in Canada. I think this is an area where we are missing out.
“Where Canada is leading in research, we are falling behind in commercialization of the technologies that stem from our research. This is where we have work to do.”
Still, Canada has the potential to be a leader in the digital economy. When we speak about ‘digital,’ we are not referring to a single sector but to all sectors of the economy. This is what is unique about the CIO Strategy Council; our membership, in the same ways as digital, cuts across all sectors of the economy. So whether you are from the financial services sector, an energy business or if you are a traditional information technology provider, all of these sectors have a critical role to play in keeping Canada competitive. We are only going to get there if we integrate new technologies into the way we work, provide efficiencies and increase productivity— then we will really thrive in the global digital economy.
In terms of digital transformation and innovation, where is Canada’s biggest opportunity? Is it in the digital transformation of our big established sectors—energy, mining, agriculture, health and others—or in the creation of new technologies and sectors?
For me, digital transformation is our biggest opportunity. We know that particular sectors of our economy are very strong, and a significant opportunity remains in leveraging those strengths. But it does require us to transform our businesses to remain globally competitive in those sectors.
I do not look at it as creating brand new sectors of the economy. Some may trickle out by virtue of digital technologies we develop in our quest to transform existing sectors, but I would not place my bets on a hypothetical. If new responsible technologies spin off into new sectors of the economy and more economic prosperity for Canada, all the better.
For example, if we consider the future of work, there could very wellbenew professions that emerge as a result of the digital transformation that occurs within our sectors. That wouldn’t necessarily result in the emergence of a new sector of the economy, but would definitely lead to new ways of working and new highly-skilled professionals we will need in order to remain competitive.
Why is the establishment and adoption of standards so important for the future of Canada’s tech industry and what should our priorities be in this respect?
Standards are the foundation to any economy. Without standards, we would have no international benchmarks, no ability to compete, no interoperability, and no ability to augment our existing technologies. Standards are critical to emerging technologies and our economy.
If we do not set rules, somebody else is going to set them for us. They could be set by other countries, for example. If that were to happen, our plan would become reactionary and we would lose time ensuring we remain competitive. We need to be on our front foot by setting the rules globally such that they include our Canadian interests.
Let us take artificial intelligence as an example. One key challenge to adopting the technology remains market uncertainty—uncertainty as to whether the public will adopt or accept the technology, or whether new regulations will be enacted in a space where regulatory cycles are just not keeping pace with the innovations. Not having a framework that is consensus-based and that establishes appropriate guardrails means we lose the ability to compete effectively. With the appropriate standards in place companies will be in a better position to mitigate and manage their risks when adopting new technologies.
“Standards are the foundation to any economy. Without standards, we would have no international benchmarks, no ability to compete, no interoperability, and no ability to augment our existing technologies.”
So for Canada, when we talk about digital transformation and adopting technologies into our ecosystem, this is going to require a set of rules. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the regulatory cycle is far slower than the pace of innovation. So the CIO Strategy Council is leveraging the development of consensus-based standards as a proxy to regulation. This will help provide market certainty so Canadian companies can leverage new technologies like AI and implement them into their businesses with all the appropriate failsafes and guardrails that will be accepted by regulators, policymakers and the public at large. So standards are essentially a means to commercialization—a means of having technologies adopted into the economy— and standards therefore become a necessity for competitiveness.
What is your take on appropriate regulations for safeguarding data? How must we reinforce our privacy protections and handling of data at a national level?
New digital services that are coming online requires us to take a hard look at the way data is governed. We need to look at data governance. And addressing both the economic and non-economic dimensions of data as mutually reinforcing is critical for Canada’s prosperity and growth. It is a false dichotomy to think of them as opposing forces to a country’s economic performance and competitiveness.
“Addressing both the economic and non-economic dimensions of data as mutually reinforcing is critical for Canada’s prosperity and growth. It is a false dichotomy to think of them as opposing forces to a country’s economic performance and competitiveness.”
As a Council, we are setting national standards around data governance, including data protection. We are also in the very advanced stages of setting a national standard for third party access to data and privacy. Our technical committee of experts spanning policymakers, regulators, industry, academia and civil society from across the country are defining under what conditions and with what sets of privacy controls access to data by a third party should be granted or revoked across technology platforms.
So from my perspective, it is, again, standards serving as a proxy to regulation to reinforce privacy protections at a national level.
We need standards in place now to avert privacy breaches, and we need to have a level of assurance and confidence that they are adopted into various organizations and implemented such that we improve cybersecurity in Canada.
The ability Canada has—or rather does not have—to collaborate with itself across provincial lines and industries, is something that we often hear about. Is this also an issue in technology?
It very much is. The impetus on why the Council was created was to break down silos, not only between government and industry, but across sectors.
Every sector of the economy is going to be disrupted by technology, so we need to be at the top of our game. We need to be competitive with other countries, and because Canada is small and because of the resources we have, we need to be both strategic and coordinated in how we compete effectively.
We are going to achieve cohesion across the country and its industries through the creation of national standards fit for global use; to set the rules, to be the first to market, and to provide a competitive edge for our Canadian companies to do business around the world.
We are going to do it with appropriate policies and incentives so that technologies can be adopted into our ecosystem. For our part, we are also going to leverage the fact that as a cross-sectoral council we are able to have non-competing industries collaborate together to provide better service to their customers, and in the case of governments, to all Canadians.
All parties and actors involved play an important role in this objective. Whether from the government, industry, academia or the public, we all have a role to play in Canada’s digital transformation. It is going to require all of us to work together.