OTTAWA — A better relationship with small- and medium-sized businesses with more collaboration is key to advancing the booming e-economy, IT industry executives told on a conference panel.

Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg joined IBM Canada president Ed Kilroy, HP Canada president Paul

Tsaparis, TD Canada Trust senior vice-president Chuck Hounsell and Cisco Canada president Terry Walsh to discuss strategies involving the evolving e-economy and how it has changed the business world over the past several years.

Chaired by lawyer John Manley, the former Canadian Minister of Finance and Industry, the main conclusion of The e-commerce to e-economy: Strategies for the 21st Century conference was that small- and medium-sized enterprises must be included more in the planning of the growing e-economy.

“”We need to focus on small- and medium-sized business and we need to a better job at exploring what the solutions are and then we must implement them,”” Clegg told Computing Canada in an exclusive interview following the two-hour morning discussion in front of 200 people.

He said the key players, including government, understand the need, but there must be more cooperation among all sectors, including large and small companies.

Clegg’s comments echoed those of a report released last week by the Canadian e-Business Initiative, which urged the government to foster more links between SMEs in order to accelerate the adoption of Internet-based products and services.

In terms of e-health, Tsaparis said industry has a role to play, but there is room for all levels of government to work towards serving the population.

He pointed to Capital Health in Edmonton, a national, Web-based health information service that uses a network of health information providers to inform people, as an example of a collaborative project that is working well and can be sponsored.

Kilroy said the private sector will always steer toward where business opportunities exist, and won’t waste time mucking around elsewhere. That’s why IBM is investing in Alberta, he said.

“”We can only swim upstream so long in discussions,”” Kilroy said. “”We are always going to go where the decisions are made.”” In that vein, he noted that IBM has set up an innovation centre in Alberta.

The panel also focused on the role of government in the e-economy. Hounsell said it’s important for government to stimulate an environment where people are not penalized by taxation.

The idea of removing the barriers to starting new businesses was also floated during the question-and-answer period of the conference. Walsh said the bulk of the work currently being done is by the private sector and stressed that the government must give incentives to business by setting the goals for industry.

Over the last 10 years, the time gap for getting research transferred to the private sector has shrunk by 70 per cent and it’s a booming sector to explore, Kilroy said.

“”That’s all because of collaboration,”” he said, suggesting a better relationship between academia, business and technology as a key in moving the e-economy forward.

Near the end of the discussion, spam and the millions of dollars it costs industry each year was raised as one of the obstacles to moving the e-economy forward. An audience member raised the oft-debated issue of governments getting involved from a regulatory standpoint.

“”As the MSN and Hotmail guy,”” Clegg responded, “”(I think) government shouldn’t step in. They should let industry sort it out. We all need to step up as an industry and get our act together.

“”Government should challenge us, but not push too hard,”” he said.

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