When the Conference Board of Canada, for the fourth straight year, ranked Canada as the second most connected nation among all OECD countries, the results would, at first glance, seem not so bad.
In Cashing in on Canadian Connectedness: The Move to Demonstrating Value, the Conference Board looked
at 63 measures of technology connectedness, including the availability of information and communications technologies, price, reach and use, broadband access, e-learning and e-government.
And based on credible, comparable international data obtained by the Conference Board, here was Canada with a score of 105, second only to the United States’ 108, tied with Sweden and with Finland close behind at 101.
This year, however, the Conference Board warned there is cause for concern. That’s because a look deeper into the numbers shows Canada is slipping as other countries catch up.
“”Overall, the competition is becom-ing tighter among the top-ranked countries in this year’s index, and Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom and Austrailia are making headway,”” says Brian Guthrie, director of innovation and knowledge management at the Conference Board.
Guthrie points out countries like Finland and other European nations, boasting considerable growth in the use of wireless technologies, are encroaching on Canada’s turf as a leader in connectedness by “”making accessibility, reach and use that much more predominant for the average citizen and the average business,””
A GRAIN OF SALT
Furthermore, he says, the U.S., which has always been strong in e-business, has made slight gains again this year, and Canada lags the U.S. on several key e-commerce indicators, such as the number of leased lines connected to the Internet, the percentage of Internet users who buy online, the amount being spent online and total volume of e-commerce per capita.
But isn’t second place good enough? And how concerned should the Canadian business community be if it wants to compete more effectively on a global basis?
Take such studies with a grain of salt, says Garry Foster, partner and national director with the telecom, media and technology practice at Deloitte Consulting. He’s not surprised at these findings.
“”Canada, because of its sheer size, has become good at communications if only by necessity. But once you are there, how do you hold onto your position?””
In fact, that’s the pattern with all studies of Canada’s competitiveness in any aspect of IT. Whether it’s connectedness, e-commerce or supercomputing, Canada invariably comes in second — usually behind the U.S. — while other nations race to catch up.
Foster points out also that indices like this suffer from the same problem as any type of statistics. That .400 hitter may look better on the surface than the .300 hitter, but if the .400 hitter only hits singles and the .300 hitter has a lot of home runs, who indeed is the more valuable player?
Canada, for example, may trail in cell phone usage, but look at the entire landscape. When it comes to ATMs and the use of debit cards, Canada is ahead of all other countries, says Foster.
STATISTICS SERVED RAW
A study of this scope also begs other questions which are not dealt with in the report. For instance, it uses ICT (an acronym for Information and Communications Technologies) and connectedness interchangeably, when they should refer to two different things. The Conference Board measures only raw connectedness when there are many other aspects to competitiveness as it relates to IT.
Take infrastructure. Canada’s banks have state-of-the-art data networks and enterprise systems with leading-edge customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning software. Large Canadian companies have the opportunity to outsource to some of the top service providers in the world, with Canadian data centres among the world’s best.
In other words, there’s a danger in measuring only the “”C”” in ICT and overlooking the “”I,”” then making assumptions about the link between technology and national competitiveness. The report, in general, does not examine this link.
To the report’s credit, the Conference Board has identified some valid areas of concern. High on the list are opportunities for greater connectivity that can be found in the health-care system, pointing to the lack of global vision and integrated strategies as barriers.
“”There’s a fair bit of connectedness within health institutions — hospitals, within a doctor’s office, within a lab. But there’s not particularly good connections between institutions,”” says Guthrie.
Secondly, there’s worry about the growing digital divide in Canada, with the diffusion of IT services highly skewed in favour of the educated, the economically well-off, and younger, urban dwellers.
Finally, there’s a suggestion from the report of apathy. “”The average citizen is not particularly concerned about whether or not Canada is more connected,”” the report notes.
Despite the Conference Board’s report on Canada’s shortcomings, Guthrie emphasizes there is some good.
“”We shouldn’t say that Canada’s doing poorly,”” he says. “”I mean, we’re in the Olympics and we’re on the podium. “”It’s not a bad showing, although the trend is a little bit negative.””
— with files from Fawzia Sheihk