Quebec City: a diamond of the digital age

Quebec City, Canada’s second oldest city, has long been recognized for its governmental focus. Since the year 2000, the diversification of its economy (particularly due to the ICT and video game sectors), the development of its telecommunication infrastructure, and the networking of players in innovation fields have ensured that digital technology holds an increasingly important role at all levels.

Carl Viel is the CEO of Québec International, an organization dedicated to the economic development and global outreach of the Quebec City metropolitan region. As part of its promotional activities, for the second consecutive year, the entity has submitted an application for Quebec City and its region for the “intelligent city of the year” of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). This contest, now in its thirteenth year, rewards the city or the region with the best strategy related to the broadband economy.

In 2011, Quebec City made the list of ICF Smart 21 award winners, which identifies 21 applications among the hundreds handed out to the contest organizers. Quebec City’s application was not selected for the Top Seven awards  last year but the ICF had asked officials representing the candidacy to present one of the current projects in the National Capital during the ICF’s annual meeting.

“By participating in such contests, the goal is to demonstrate that Quebec City, which has long had an external reputation for a city oriented toward government jobs, has changed and evolved. The goal is to attract investment but also talent that may consider moving or immigrating there. This could also create commercial or scientific partnerships for our companies and help them export their know-how,” says Mr. Viel.

The ICF added a new critera to its judging process this year, says co-founder Louis Zacharilla, with platforms for innovation. Quebec City did well in this regard, developing eco-systems to allow for collaboration in the economy and producing new companies and new ideas, and attracting people from outside Quebec.

“Quebec began weening itself from government support a couple of years ago and are now looking at innovation,” he says. “They’ve said this is going to be the centre of economic job creation going forward.”

Economic know-how

Mr. Viel explains that three primary elements characterize Quebec City’s candidacy in the ICF contest. The first element was the transformation of the Quebec region’s economy into a knowledge-based economy for the past few years, a transformation he calls “exceptional.”

The CEO of Québec International reported the creation of 25,000 regional jobs in two years, the low unemployment rate and the greatest GDP growth among Canada’s eight largest metropolitan areas during the past five years. Mr. Viel emphasizes the 25 per cent increase in job growth in two years in the knowledge-based economy, which includes the ICT.

“Sectors that have gained momentum, including optoelectronics and video games, are doing very well. Over the past year, we have had projects such as the advent of the Fujitsu company’s first innovation centre in Canada. We also have the greatest concentration of researchers per person,” notes Mr. Viel.

Increased networking

The second major element of the Québec candidacy involves infrastructure and telecommunications. Mr. Viel reports on current major projects in the region such as the first implementation in Canada of a fiber optic network reaching homes by Bell Canada.

Mr. Viel also emphasizes the free Wi-Fi network of the ZAP Québec organization, which would include the largest number of access points and would constitute the largest deployment of a free Wi-Fi network for a public network of its kind in Canada.

“The entire Plains of Abraham are covered by this Wi-Fi network and more than 60 per cent of the city is currently covered,” says Mr. Viel.

The ZAP network includes 430 points of Wi-Fi access and together with Bell Canada’s rollout of its new Fibe network in Quebec, the boosted connectivity is key to the city’s high ranking this year, Zacharilla says.

“If you ride a city bus or are in any part of the city, you will have a connection,” he says. “These two programs have enabled the basic infrastructure to go forward.”

Regional Innovation

The third major element of Quebec City’s candidacy for the ICF’s “intelligent city 2012” contest involves the innovative capacity of the community of the Quebec region.

Mr. Viel points out that the Parc technologique, which was created in 1988, was the first territory if its kind in Canada but also emphasizes the strong networking in the business and research fields.

“In mid-May, we are organizing the second edition of an event called “Québec seeks solutions” where companies submit problems to more than 200 researchers in the community,” he states as an example.

Citizen technologies

Regarding the role of the communications and information technology sector in Quebec City and its region, Mr. Viel mentions the presence of major providers and consulting firms, some of which, such as DMR (now Fujitsu), were founded in the “Old Capital.” He recognizes the presence of ICT in the economy but also in society in general.

“In our candidacy, it was important to demonstrate how technologies are made available to citizens, indicates Mr. Viel. We submitted mobile applications for public transportation, applications for tourists, etc. These projects make it easier to live in a city that keeps up with new technologies and innovations. A recent article indicated that 70 per cent of people in the community have a smart phone.”

The CEO of Québec International added that implementation projects of paperless municipal councils, sharing of municipal data by the City of Quebec and creation of applications with the help of that data and the creation of a virtual regional map were included in the candidacy of the region in the ICF contest.

The candidacy also features an optimization project for snow clearing using the help of ICTs (with real-time localization), which would allow better management and maintenance of its equipment. Mr. Viel explains that this project includes sending text messages announcing vehicle movement to citizens who registered for the alert service. He states that this alert service is provided by a young start-up company, in its very first contract.

Mr. Viel hopes that Quebec City will be chosen by the ICF committee as the 2012 “intelligent city” but he already appreciates the recognition received by the city and its region, in having been selected as one of the seven contest finalists. “To mobilize the community and to continue to create interesting projects is in itself a success,” believes Mr. Viel.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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