Leading in the Digital Age

The Case for Stronger National Coordination


Alex Benay

Co-Founder and Past Co-Chair

Make no mistake, Canada, and therefore Canadians, are locked in a global race for prosperity. It is an international race to innovate faster, generate new ideas quicker, and ultimately birth new economies. And the global pandemic has increased the pace x-fold. This race is caused by the fact we are undergoing massive economic production model shifts. We may not see it in our everyday lives but rest assured, the prosperity model has shifted, and continues to evolve.

In a country, like Canada, which benefited from the industrial age economic model, shifting to new, more nimble digital and IP prosperity production is difficult. When you peel the layers of hype caused by public relations attempts, Canada has a mixed bag of results as it pertains to digital economy growth. In some cases we are in the game. For example, with the investments made in artificial intelligence, Canada continues to be relevant. Yet in other areas we lack commitment, for example in creating a true digital rights framework that has teeth and that requires substantial legislative change – a realm typically reserved for the European Union.

The reality is we will be forever in a position of playing catch up in some areas, and hopefully leaders in others. We are one of the most connected countries on the planet, yet we leverage it poorly. We do not have digital identity for our citizens and lack considerable digital economy infrastructure, yet we have the resources to lead a massive shift. We have the mechanisms to regulate for innovation and protection of citizen, yet often fail to do so.

The common excuse is that we are a big country and operating within a Westminster model of governance add federal provincial tensions. Add Northern connectivity challenges and the excuses quickly pile up. Fair enough, these are issues, however the countries who are leading in the digital prosperity race such as Estonia and Denmark would claim that this is precisely why Canada must be a digital leader. Our challenges are also our opportunities and the only way to tackle these threats to our national prosperity is by working together, across sectors, in a meaningful way.

That is why it was so important for me personally to help launch the CIO Strategy Council. I have spent my career deploying technology both in Canada and abroad and have seen what is possible. This is why I believe the role of the CIO Strategy Council is crucial. During my time as CIO of Canada, this new group was one of my main priorities because, like so many others, I see an amazing future for Canada, but only if we shed our excuses and get to the task of doing things, across sectors, and quickly.

We need to be laser-focused on developing next generation technology standards to fill gaps created by legacy regulation and legislation that just haven’t kept up with the pace of change. We need to also unite our ICT ecosystem to drive Canadian innovation and global leadership.

We have a group of CIOs from companies, federal and provincial governments, municipalities, not for profits and many other sectors, all working together on common digital issues. Not to sound dramatic, but this is the only group in our country actively pulling together all our disjointed efforts to create a digital nation. It goes beyond individual investments, R&D, universities, startups, government programs, and large corporate investments – it is literally all of it, all at once. As Canada’s technologists we are consumed with the purpose of building a better, digital nation for all and will continue to put our country’s digital prosperity at the forefront of any agenda. In these unprecedented and tumultuous times, stronger digital enablement is no longer an option, but the only option to coming out of this crisis as a more resilient and successful economy.

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