Icing call

Even after getting a well-deserved Olympic gold medal, Canada is barely in the competition as far as skating is concerned.

Put aside for a moment those SkateGate lovebirds, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. I’m talking about our performance as a nation, as evaluated by IDC and the World Times

Information Society, which recently published the 2002 Information Society Index (ISI). The two research partners use 23 indicators as they measure the PC penetration, Internet use and societal factors of 55 countries.

Most of the rankings were unchanged from last year, except ours: Canada fell from 12 to 14. This puts us in the last place of the upper quadrant of the list, which divides countries into Skaters, Striders, Sprinters and Strollers. The index describes skaters as “”in strong position to take full advantage of the Information Revolution (their caps) because of advanced information, computer, Internet and social infrastructures.”” We may be in the winner’s podium, but we got a bronze.

It could be worse — we could be Pakistan, which ranked dead last — but the index suggests Canada is faltering, particularly in its information and social scores. Information in this case refers to telephone lines per household, cost of a local telephone call, television ownership per capita and the number of cable subscribers. Here we rank 25 — still striding but close to sprinting. Social indicators include school enrollment, newspaper readership and press freedom. Canada ranked 18. This is in stark contrast to the country’s performance in the hard-core IT indicators: we are No. 2 in computer infrastructure (which includes PCs installed per capita) and eighth in Internet infrastructure.

Sweden managed to win the top spot on the index for the third year in a row, which was largely attributed to its adoption of cell phones and e-commerce. Yet these are on the rise in Canada as well. In a research paper accompanying the report, IDC chief research officer John Gantz explains the discrepancy:

“”As soon as countries reach some theoretical maximum of technology penetration, the differences between information societies won’t be how much technology they’ve adopted but what they can do with it,”” he writes. “”Internet access, for example, won’t do much for people who can’t read. PCs in schools won’t help countries lacking a good education system. In time, we may adjust index variables so they reflect more of these nontechnology attributes in the formation of an information society.””

Until they do, it’s hard to see why anyone would take a ranking like this seriously. These kind of power lists are handy bits of trivia for radio and TV newscasts that want to offer a quick, meaningless sound bite on the state of IT progress around the world, but there is little of value to those directing an IT strategy. Even in a fast-growing market that sees millions of units shipped, the deeper societal issues cannot be expected to keep up. If it teaches us anything, the ISI is a reminder that successful deployment is dependent upon a solid environment: good schools, high literacy and so on. We always say that it is not the technology that matters in the enterprise, it’s the people. The same goes for our IT development as a nation.

There is no shame in ranking No. 14 on a list where even highly developed countries reach a plateau. We’re not skating on thin ice yet.


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