A lack of broad technical expertise may be stalling the growth of e-business in Canadian small and medium enterprises, despite having the infrastructure in place to do it, according to a pair of recently released reports.

Fast Forward 4.0: Growing Canada’s Digital Economy, published by the Canadian

e-Business Initiative (CeBI), concludes that if Canada is to remain globally competitive, business and government at all levels must continue to create an environment that fosters e-business solutions and infrastructure. CeBI is a private sector partnership with Industry Canada and the successor to the Canadian E-Business Roundtable, which had a mission of accelerating the country’s participation in the new economy. The last Fast Forward, called Maintaining the Momentum, was released in March 2002.

Fast Forward 4.0, a report card grading Canada’s overall performance in promoting the growth of e-business and the digital economy, found there remains key elements of the country’s e-business infrastructure that must be must be addressed.

“”We have a very strong infrastructure in Canada,”” says Pierre-Paul Allard, president of Cisco Systems of Canada and co-chair of the CeBI.

“”It’s well recognized, it continues to grow,”” he says.

He says 28.4 per cent of Canadian firms have no plans to adopt Internet business solutions. A lack of SME-tailored e-business products, along with lack of time and money, were among the reasons behind the inactivity. In addition, says Allard, “”privacy and security continues to be at the forefront in terms of challenges for all businesses in Canada, specifically the SME space.””

Not surprisingly, a lack of talent also has negatively affected the ability of SMEs to embrace e-business.

“”The kind of technical talent we produce (in Canada) is more consumable by large firms,”” says Ron McClean, professor with York University’s Schulich School of Business. “”They tend to be highly specialized — not generic business people — so they fit better with large firms. There is a lot of unemployment in the technology sectors probably because they’re too focussed for the SME space.

“”So from a production point of view, we’re sort of missing the boat where there’s a gap between producing the right kinds of people that are more usable in the SME space and convincing them that it’s a rewarding career.””

McClean says the SMEs themselves have to start articulating the kinds of technical people they need.

“”While Canadian colleges and universities continue to produce talent,”” added Allard, “”it’s always a concern where that talent winds up. We need to collaborate with colleges and universities to develop new curriculum . . . in Internet business solutions, not in technology — understanding how you reconstruct a business in a Web-centric fashion.””

McClean says adopting Internet business solutions is not just about applying technology but about business transformation, something Canadians have proven to do well.

CeBI also released a report called Net Impact Canada: The International Experience, which found Canada ranks favourably with the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France in terms of overall e-business adoption by SMEs and even leads in key areas such as e-government.

According to CeBI, the SME sector accounts for 60 per cent of Canada’s economic output, 80 per cent of overall national employment and 85 per cent of all new jobs.

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