Pointless measures of Canada’s competitiveness

You’ve all read the stories. “Canada lags in the implementation of (INSERT NAME OF THE TECHNOLOGY HERE) and risks falling behind competitively.”

I’ve been reading this type of headline for years and years.

And I saw it again in a headline recently, this time in reference to a study of IP Convergence. Why it Canada is always lagging when it comes to IT?

Is is because of our conservative nature or a chronic lack of budget and resources, or some combination thereof?

As journalists, we are always on the lookout for good research and information about trends affecting the IT industry in Canada.

And while the research is abundant, in general, the one item lacking in all this is real Canadian content.

Since our readers are 99.9 per cent based in Canada, we would, if possible, like to break out the Canadian sample and make comparisons.

The assumption overall is that IT is fairly generic and the industry is global. I wonder often how true that is. Wait, strike that, I don’t think it is true at all.

But we only have my impressions and some occasional anecdotes to support this.

What I do see is market research firms in Canada such as IDC and Infotech and Evans endeavouring to offer information that is Canadian.

What we need is the Canadian IT community to respond to these surveys in enough numbers to make these samples statistically significant.

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/17/07, 5:00PM, [email protected]

Is outsourcing killing Canada?

Yesterday’s article on IT business.ca highlighting a Robert Half survey indicating chief information officers are taking an average of 48 days to hire a new IT employee has prompted this perhaps contentious reaction from a concerned reader (and veteran IT professional.)

“My main concern with these self-serving views is they are being repeated and circulated and, in my personal opinion, provide the government with an easy out…allowing outsourcing or insourcing, shipping-in ‘guest workers’ for three month stays at about a third the going rate for Canadians…via an outsource agreement. Simple cheap labour in anyone’s books, and placating employers by lowering entry qualifications from lower cost countries.”

You can obviously argue against this point, and you can’t always equate imported labour with cheaper labour and lower qualifications. But you can expect that more organizations are looking at IT shortages in Canada and will be creating a more global workforce, with a net effect of moving some IT operations completely out of Canada.

Will Canada be outsourcing IT as readily as it has begun with manufacturing? Or probably a more likely scenario, which areas of IT will Canada choose to specialize, and which will it begin to lose?

IT has always been broadly based in Canada but there are now indications that as with some other occupations, Canada may be forced in a position where it will need to specialize also in IT.

So what could happen is that most of the IT opportunities will be in call centres while a good chunk of application development moves elsewhere. The time to ask such as question is now: Is this a scenario we truly want?

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/16/07, 5:00PM, [email protected]

Clubbed to death

If you are like me, you constantly get invited to join these professional online groups and social networks that keep popping up everywhere.

And if you are like me, you also choose not to join them, if only because most of us are already dangerously overexposed to all the various means of electronic communications.

These days, I am feeling overnetworked. I run the real risk each day that I’m getting more e-mails than I can possibly respond too, and you worry too that you risk offending someone by taking too long to reply, if you are able to reply at all.

I would have, at one time, complained that this is more or less, a result of the job I am in. Editors are on more mailing and distribution lists than you can ever imagine, and it’s obvious everybody wants our attention.

But I start noticing later that virtually all workers are making the same kind of complaint, whether in sales, service or any office function.

I’m hoping now that somebody will now start to ask the real, hard questions.

Does technology really make us more productive or just incredibly less selective about who we choose to deal with?

This has very little to do with the amount of spam we receive; by now, the filters we have in place are very effective, and anything that we get by spam is easily deleted.

There seems to be an entire category of e-mail that is somewhere in between, items that are not directly relevant to the tasks we are doing, but more based on somebody sending us stuff just on the limited chance that we may be interested.

I am not sure what do about it. We give our e-mail addresses out generously and we do need to make ourselves available. I wonder where this all will one day lead. Will the pile just get bigger?

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/15/07, 5:00PM, [email protected]

Snow place like home

The first big snow storm of the year, between 20 to 70 centimetres depending on which part of Southern Ontario you live in, has me for the first time, blogging from home.

I took one look outside the window this morning and realized there was no point driving in, four hours of driving leaving about four hours for work, not exactly the best way to be spending Valentine’s Day.

Working at home, though, does make me reflect on how far the technology has come. I can access my e-mail remotely, I can connect to any other worker easily either via mobile or at home, there really nothing to stop me from carrying on as normal. I’ve checked my voice mail regularly, I carried on with an interview I had scheduled with somebody based in Montreal.

I have all my files with me knowing last night this could happen. I have everything I need.

Except for one thing. I can’t work at home. It really does not matter how good the technology gets or how comfortable or convenient my home office has become.

I am an office person. To me, the home is a sanctuary, a haven, an escape from the work routine and I really like to keep the two as separate as possible. The office is really the only place where I feel I can really get any work done.

I know where all the hype is. There are more people embracing working at home than ever before for a day or a two at a time, more and more people are doing this full-time.

But I wonder, how is it they manage to concentrate? Is the ability to work at home something you get used to over time?

I’m glad for one thing, it looks like I’m going to be able to send my blog in on time. And I really now should get started on that proposal for a supplement that is due in the AM.

But first, I think I’ll shovel the driveway.

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/14/07, 5:00PM, [email protected]

CATA and CIPS do good

It’s good to see two of Canada’s leading industry associations working together to solve what is quickly becoming this industry’s most pressing problem — the IT skills shortage.

Earlier today, CIPS (Canadian Information Processing Society) and CATAAlliance (Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance) announced a partnership which will, among other things, design and execute a national study on the value of IT professionalism and as well as addressing the skills shortage issue through a series of discussion.

When it comes to IT, industry associations in Canada have had a checkered history in terms of working together.

I can remember interviewing both a number of CIPS and CATA presidents in years past. And when I asked about the prospects of working together, most said that they hadn’t really given it that much thought, or they didn’t see any advantage in doing so.

The question, in my mind, always has been, can a market as small as Canada really afford to have a fragmented approach to solving problems of a national scope?

Increasing globalization of the work force (greater movement and increased competition for a limited supply of labour) is further serving to complicate the issue, thankfully, our associations are doing a much better job of working together.

The next step would be for other associations to join in this effort, especially the regionally focused ones found all over the country.

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/13/07, 5:00PM, [email protected]

Is your CEO a dummy?

There’s quite a lot of interesting reading in From Back Office to Boardroom: A Report on Key Issues Driving CIOs. Prepared by Communitech in context of the formation of a Southwestern Ontario association of CIOs, it reveals how much the CIO position continues to be in a state of flux.

If this report is indicative, about half of CIOs do not report to CEOs, about half of IT departments continue to be considered a cost centre and many organizations don’t even want to use the Chief Information Officer title.

The report alludes to the fact that one of the things needed is better CEO education.

Then I start to wonder, How true is that? How often have we read this before? This report, to be honest, could have been written 10 years ago, and it wouldn’t have sounded that much different.

The report has one person quoted stating that CEOs are terrified of systems and don’t understand this stuff, which to be honest, I think, is a load of crap.

Last year in May, at a CIPS national conference in Victoria., B.C., I moderated a roundtable on the topic of CEO/CIO relationships. Believe me, these CEOs do get it. Most CEOS in large enterprises are more than aware of the importance of the role IT can play both in a support and a strategic function.

I wonder if the real reason that IT (and CIOs) have not yet gone to the next plateau is because innovation seems stalled some how. We are seeing incremental improvements in technology but nothing that truly excites.

(Remember Vista is the major technology story of the year so far but it is only an upgrade.)

And it really is getting harder and harder to get excited about anything to do with wireless or security or infrastructure.

I almost wondering if technology is stalled because CIOs have forgotten how to innovate. Five to 10 years of cost-cutting and preparing business cases have taken their toll and killed IT’s innovative spirit.

Maybe that’s the real reason CEOs have stopped paying attention.

— Posted by Martin Slofstra, 2/12/07, 2:50PM, [email protected]

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