A huge role to play

Edge: The IT industry seems to be having a rough go of it these days including those who no longer see it as offering any kind of competitive advantage. What is your take on all this?TSAPARIS: I would be strongly in the camp that IT can deliver competitive advantage to businesses because there are so many compelling examples of that around the world. I certainly am familiar with the debate but it’s clear to me as we look at businesses that have not only transformed themselves but also transformed industries as a result of IT investment. Where to begin, whether it’s Wal-Mart with it supply chain efficiencies or some of the smallest businesses. Take Conros (of North York, Ont., North America’s largest maker of artificial fireplace logs.) One of the requirements is that Wal-Mart wanted all of their suppliers to be RFID-enabled. Here we had a Canadian company, very successful by the way, with a view to competitive advantage by getting into Wal-Mart’s supply chain ahead of their competitors. Not only do they have a great relationship with Wal-Mart but a better understanding of their supply chain.

Edge: What about in the large enterprise space? Any examples of transformation?

TSAPARIS: Probably the most classic examples we have is in our outsourcing business. What we see in the Canadian marketplace is where we have a $2 billion transaction we did with CIBC and a $400 million transaction with TD Bank where we are helping to transform the ABM and POS network so we can work collaboratively with them at better serving their customers than they could have done on their own. We are in a situation where the customer experience is now enabled by HP. In that instance, the transformation of this environment made more sense to be handled in an outsourced fashion. We can’t forget that the customer experience is what we need to be ultimately working towards.

Edge: Maintaining infrastructure is one thing though, where does the competitive advantage come in?

TSAPARIS: So what is it, it’s all the elements of a business. It’s capital structure, it’s the leadership team, it’s their intellectual property and knowledge, it’s their ability to deliver great customer experiences. All of these things deliver great competitive advantage. When we think of our role, we are a great company that actually partners with our customers. We don’t pretend to think we are an expert in financial services. TD Bank is going to know more than HP will ever know, and so too, CIBC. However, the link between business goals and IT is where we have exceptionally strong capabilities. And that’s where our services and infrastructure is focussed on.

Edge: So are you spending your time with CIOs and IT, or with CEOs and senior executives?

TSAPARIS: I’m very fortunate. In my travels across the country, and with an opportunity with both CIOs and CEOs of major leading enterprises and government organizations across the country it is interesting to see that the leading companies in Canada realize the importance of information and communications to enabling competitive advantage. It used to be left to the IT department to manage as a cost centre but the more far-reaching organizations are now understanding the role of IT. As a result, we are seeing more CEOs getting involved, getting more technology savvy because it is critical to their business.

Edge: And what are they saying?

TSAPARIS: The whole productivty agenda is first and foremost on a lot of businesses leaders’ minds. The other agenda is revenue generation and cost containment in terms of their business. Then the other area is employee engagement and what are the things that great companies are doing. Finally, how do these businesses support and link to their communities.

Edge: Being a good corporate citizen, some would say, is a lost art so what are you are doing to reinvigorate that?

TSAPARIS: If that is your observation, then I think it is a sad state of affairs. The leading companies, not only in Canada but in the world, take corporate social responsibility very seriously. We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve been ranked the number one company in the technology sector and in fact, one of the top ranked in Canada. The reason for that is quite simple: There is a great economic case to be made for corporate social responsibility. We commissioned some research and 92% of Canadians said that they would have a higher propensity to buy products and services from a company that had higher levels of CSR. Point number two: From a profit perspective, shareholders are now saying they are more inclined to invest in companies that have good policies around CSR. The third point: From an employee standpoint, 91% said their preference is to work for a company that has strong policies around CSR. We think there is a great economic case from customers, business partners as well as shareholders and employees.

Edge: You’ve seem to become quite outspoken on the role that IT can play, yet Canada can do a lot more?

TSAPARIS: I’m an incredible believer that the ICT industry in Canada is one of our best kept secrets and that it is an absolute shame that more people don’t know about the role that ICT can play. There is not an industry that does more private sector research. There are 545,000 people that are employed in ICT alone. It’s close to 5.4% of our GDP. In itself, it’s larger than the automotive and aerospace industries in terms of exports, R&D and employees, but if you look at the headlines….

Edge: So why doesn’t IT get the respect it deserves?

TSAPARIS: I think we need to take some responsibility for it. I’ve been fortunate to serve on the board of ITAC for a number of years and most recently on its executive committee. One of the big policy agenda items we have is twofold: Not only talking about how important ICT is in its own way but how important an enabler ICT is to the productivity agenda of Canada, both large enterprise and small business, and government departments.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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