There’s more to an IT community than just customers and vendors. Playing a supporting role is the host of organizations and associations that help an area’s IT firms do everything from networking to lobbying.
Toronto, fortunately, is served by a wide range of national and local groups all with the same purpose in mind: to put the city on the map as a recognized hub of IT innovation.
Perhaps the best-known up-and-comer in that category is the MaRS Discovery District, which bills itself as a convergence innovation centre dedicated to accelerating the commercialization of new ideas and new technologies by fostering the convergence of capital, science and business.
“We were a reference site for many technologies that are groundbreaking,” said Peter Evans, advisor at the MaRS venture group, “in particular, the Tandberg partnership that has allowed Tandberg to test new technologies using the MaRS facility in a live way.”
Other locally focused organizations supporting the industry include the Toronto Board of Trade, which has taken the lead on the city’s ICT committee, said CEO Carol Wilding.
Toronto, she said, is the engine driving the provincial and national economies. ‘It’s also a gateway to North America and other countries.”
There is also a host of organizations specific to sectors within the broader IT industry. Interactive Ontario, which recently changed its name from the New Media Business Alliance, started out with a handful of new media firms in 2001 and has since grown to about 150 members, said president Ian Kelso.
“This is a very export-driven industry and a very global industry, so we’re always looking for ways to find potentials for members to be able to export products or make the right partnerships on the ground to be able to find distribution channels for their products,” he said.
Organizations supporting IT across the country also have local chapters focusing on local issues.
CATA, for example, has about 6,000 of its 28,000 members in the city. Its women in technology group focuses on encouraging young women and girls to explore their career options in the IT industry.
Most recently, according to executive director Barry Gander, CATA has undertaken a series of webinars connecting health care experts from around the globe, using Toronto as a home base.
CIPS (the Canadian Information Processing Society), which has about 6,000 members, focuses on protecting the public interest by promoting professional certification, said president John Boufford, I.S.P.
“My executive and I have been talking at a lot at conferences across the country … about managing business risk through professional certification, and this goes to the issue of it governance,” said Boufford. “What this is doing is raising the awareness of practitioners about the need for IT governance so we can provide more reliable IT services to IT employers and the public in general around the management of Canada’s critical information infrastructure.”
It’s important for the local IT industry to participate in such associations because whatever their niche, there are a lot of common issues, said ITAC president Bernard Courtois.
“There is something special about our industry; it has a fundamental role of enabler in the growth of economy,” he said. “There are a lot of things in common in terms of what we need to make Canadian technology enterprises grow and succeed and that’s particularly true of ones that hit mid size. The firms that contribute the most to the economy in terms of growth are those that are going from small to mid size … and there are barriers to that happening.”
Toronto, he added, boasts a wide variety of skilled services, development and IT manufacturing firms.
“But in fact it comes down to it’s about skilled people, the right business environment, and about accelerating the interplay between clusters that make the GTA a world leader,” he said.