Are we missing our prosperity potential? - Canadian Government Executive
Best Practice
May 7, 2012

Are we missing our prosperity potential?

Innovation, leadership and a commitment to building a knowledge advantage are cited as some of the greatest challenges facing Canada today. The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity highlights in its recent report, “Setting Our Sights on Canada’s 2020 Prosperity Agenda,” that we lack the positive alignment of attitudes, investment, motivations and structures to close the prosperity gap in North America – and we are not welcoming global competitiveness, innovation and risk-taking.

It is not surprising that the federal government’s recently released innovation strategy, “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage,” also called for increased focus on research and the need to build a “sustainable national competitive advantage based on science and technology and skilled workers whose aspirations, ambitions, and talents bring innovation to life.” These and myriad other recent publications rightfully focus on what we feel is the growing “perfect storm.”

The federal surpluses will soon be over. The human resource tsunami is real – though we are not aligned on what this truly means. Many authors have written about the demographic shift and the pending retirement bubble, but we have seen little change in policy and long-term strategy. The federal government, however, has recently embarked upon “strategic reviews” which are beginning to probe service delivery capacity and alternative service delivery options.
     
While we have been talking about a knowledge economy, the world became flat. Our “knowledge economy statements” have been overshadowed by the actions of other countries, like India, who have had the vision to create globally competitive “talent factories” and to drive an agenda of growth, innovation and prosperity. The perfect storm is growing.

Despite numerous calls for growing a “knowledge advantage” – we still have significant gaps in understanding and defining “what is the future knowledge advantage?” Canada employs over 600,000 information communication technology professionals. The automotive industry employs 495,000 workers. Yet we still lack comparable focus and an ICT vision and strategy on where and how our “knowledge advantage” in this industry segment can best be leveraged to support Canadian growth and prosperity. More challenging, the gulf between industry, government, academia and politicians seems to be widening at a time when innovative solutions, applied “at home,” can set the stage for Canadian global centres of excellence based on services, knowledge and integration of Canadian technology with other leading global technologies, leading to some of the most sophisticated and proven integrated solutions.

David Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada, recently made “trust” the cornerstone of his Public Policy Forum’s Testimonial Awards acceptance speech – highlighting the need for greater trust across all stakeholders. The issue of trust seems to be at the heart of the storm, one that needs to be addressed to re-establish Canada as a leader in innovation.

This will require a political commitment to transform new collaborative approaches across all stakeholders, the adoption of world-leading technology, and a commitment to leverage these “world-class” solutions out into the global marketplace. The opportunity is here to deliver through leading technologies a more connected, citizen engaged, innovative environment for public policy deliberation and delivery.

Some would say that the current federal procurement processes “protects the tax payer.” Many would argue the opposite – the processes are burdensome, expensive and focused on inputs rather than outputs and results. For the most part, they are not delivering public value and increasingly pushing Canadian investment away to more efficient and cost-effective regions and countries. Many would argue that the adoption of global industry best practices could, in fact, help shift millions if not billions of dollars from internal expenditures to greater areas of policy need – while at the same time improving service levels and creating new opportunities for Canada in the resale of integrated, proven, Canadian solutions. Bottom line, the public policy debate needs to be more open, consequence-based and less partisan if we are to begin a journey of success. A key component to achieve this outcome is an active and engaged public service leadership in partnership with individual companies and industry advocates.

Current federal attitudes, structures, and processes are often cited as embracing “creeping incrementalism” over “innovation and transformation.” Ottawa’s transformational mantra has been a by-product of policy interpretation rather than policy design. The result has been the creation of one of the largest sub-contracting markets in Canada – companies that create extremely limited if any intellectual property, thought leadership or research. They are staffing companies focused on providing minimally compliant individual practitioners at the lowest possible prices. This service delivery and procurement strategy has left little room for small, medium and large ICT businesses to bring innovative global best practices to government.

A new delivery model needs to encourage a greater density of private sector ICT capabilities and services, so we can build our private sector talent to compete against the larger markets such as India. Current procurement processes and risk-averse buying behaviours are leaving little room for business to bring innovative best practices to government. Unquestionably, a missed opportunity.

HOW the federal government spends on ICT and services, and not WHAT we spend, is at the eye of the storm. It is affecting the speed and adoption of innovative technologies. It is also restricting collaborative approaches with the private sector. It is not about pumping more ICT dollars into the system; it is about spending current dollars more strategically and aligning it to an ICT strategy. Taxpayers deserve no less.

Various provinces and OECD countries have clearly embraced large projects and structured them for success. Large projects allow for global best practices to be brought to Canada, through industry partnering arrangements – including the opportunity to partner with Aboriginal business. Provincial governments and other leading OECD countries are engaging industry far more aggressively in their transformation efforts and consultations. New Zealand just released its Draft Digital Strategy 2.0 for industry, public and government consultation – with specific focus on multiple digital business actions and outcomes, including renewed focus on productivity, community and sustainability. British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba are also leading examples of collaboration success – they are pro-actively engaging industry through innovative procurement models, focused on outcomes, and in some instances leveraging industry capital through shared risk-reward procurement. The results have been service delivery innovations, with industry engaged in citizen-centred service delivery and innovation.

So why is there a greater “storm” brewing at the federal level around “knowledge advantage?” Why is there a perception that the government is “losing ground?” There seems to be a preference federally to manage transformation internally. The current environment of avoiding risk at all costs, growing the sub-contractors community, and hiring back to greatness are collectively fuelling

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