Vancouver, British Columbia. February 25, 1993
As I was flying in for this delightful conference, I was struck by two thoughts.
One was how close the water seemed to be just before you land at the airport.
The second was that a port city such as Vancouver operates very much like an association.
Vancouver’s harbour is two things: it is Canada’s conduit to the outside world, sending our exports across the globe. It is also a door to our interior, bringing the world’s goods into our homes.
Associations also face both ways. In the association world, we are living in constant tension between two roles. We have an inward-facing role, dealing with the business challenges our members are facing and providing support services. We also have an outward-facing role, linking our members to the larger community, and providing awareness, understanding and promotion to these external audiences.
As the Chairman-Elect of the Information Technology Association of Canada – ITAC – I have become aware of a rapidly mounting urgency in these two missions. Now, more than ever, associations are playing a critical role in the development of a nation’s information technology capability – and with it, national prosperity.
I intend today to highlight some of IT AG’s responses to these challenges. But first, I’d like to put the challenges of associations, and the urgency of their mission, into context. I’d like to talk about a changing world, and the new empires that we are building.
Last year, a pivotal event took place in the world’s economy. It passed almost unnoticed in the media, but it should be framed and put above the desk of every economic pundit. Last year, for the first time, information technology became the world’s largest industry! It overtook automaking to grab the title. And if present trends continue, it won’t give up the championship title in our lifetime, or in the lifetime of our children. Let’s take a look at this mega-trend: the long-term acceleration in the importance of our industry. Imagine that the length of this room represents the time from the beginning of the planet to the present day. The width of your chair would then represent the time since humans first made fire; the width of your pen the time since papyrus was invented. The thinness of the material of your suit would measure the time since Gutenberg invented the printing press, and the thinness of a strand of computer tape would account for the years since Babbage invented the first computer, or Bell invented the phone.
Like a spool of computer tape, the world in that thin stretch of recent time is spinning faster than it ever has before. Ninety per cent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive today. Scientific knowledge is now doubling every five years. The compression of time; the urgency that this snowballing knowledge has generated will only increase. More and more people are being brought into the global network every day, and the number of human brains working together is expanding almost exponentially. This year, for example, there are some 80 million personal computers installed world-wide, with ten times as many telephones connecting every corner of the Earth.
A few weeks ago, a book was launched in Montreal that gave an apt label to this new “industry of knowledge”. It was titled: “Invisible Empires – the history of telecommunications in Canada”. Invisible Empires! Its a lovely image. It fits with Winston Churchill’s observation that “The new empires are empires of the mind”.
We are in the invisible empire business; the empires of the mind. As such, infotech industry associations have a very difficult “external” job to do. “Invisible empires” is a hard concept to explain to policy-makers and the business communities.
But I think the evidence is overwhelming that infotech, despite being invisible, is transforming the entire world of international business. President Clinton’s new Secretary of Labour is Robert Reich. In Reich’s view, every advanced nation is now involved in a race to increase the value of what their citizens can contribute to the “webs of enterprise”*. By “webs of enterprise”, Reich is talking about trade or joint ventures within multinational corporations.
The relevance of his message to our invisible empire is this: Reich is saying that something new is happening in international business. Corporations in these webs of enterprise are shopping the world, with R&D facilities in one place, and production in another. They are able to do so because information technology has given them the power to outsource and coordinate these activities on a global scale. Information technology is the “web” in Reich’s “webs of enterprise”.
And to seal the importance of infotech, remember that the recent Presidential election was the first time in anyone’s memory when telecommunications became a campaign issue – with Vice President Gore’s proposal for a national fibre-optic network!
Around the world, information technology is becoming the single most important tool of business, and the prime creator of the new global economy. ITAC’s outward-looking face is devoted to two tasks; connecting Canadian industry to other international organizations, and explaining the industry’s importance to Canadian influencers.
Our international effort is done in several ways. ITAC works through voluntary committees that connect with international groups. Our Standards efforts, for example, are dedicated to ensuring that Canadian firms are offering products that meet universally-accepted criteria. We work closely with the Canadian Standards Association, and we’ve delighted with its recent accreditation in America. Together with the existing Standards linkages in Europe and Asia, we are easing the path for the entry of Canadian companies into the global certification net.
We also have special Task Forces that address immediate international trade issues such as NAFTA. ITAC has been a strong supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and our Task Force was heavily consulted in the weeks leading up to the Agreement.
ITAC provides a full “export emphasis” in its programs. We have a Director of International Activities, who travels the world strengthening our linkages and arranging trade missions and conferences. We have a major conference coming up in the Fall, for example, here in Vancouver. Softworld 93 is THE showcase for Canadian software expertise. This is very important to Canada: more than 60 per cent of our software revenues come from export sales. Softworld 91 in Vancouver was our “trial balloon”, and it floated pretty high. We had more than 300 companies participating. Representatives from ten key Asian Rim countries attended. They were there to see, and buy, Canadian expertise and products. They were high-level players, and this kind of clout is something that an industry association can obtain for its members ITAC gets high-level Canadian government players involved, and they invite their high-level international counterparts, and these senior people can make the buying decisions.
In Softworld 91, for example, more than two out of three attendees were CEO’s, Presidents or Vice Presidents. And they made buying decisions: an incredible 42 per cent of respondents at Softworld 91 completed one or more business deals!
Softworld 93 will take place from September 12-15. I urge you to see for yourselves what opportunities can unfold for you. Go as participants or as visitors. I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
Our other “outward” face looks at promoting the industry to Canadian policy-making and business influencers – promoting in the sense of building understanding and awareness. Collectively, ITAC’s Vision Statement is “Helping Canadians Build a Better Future Through Information Technology”. This is a very outward-looking Vision – a Vision calling for active missionary work on behalf of information technology.
We try to accomplish this:
• through policy advocacy
• through lobbying
• and through communications and networking.
All of these activities have a single thread – a single message – running through them.
The Canadian Government recently undertook a major search for the key to prosperity in the Twenty-First Century. Our response to the Government’s Prosperity Initiative took the form of a report called & Knowledge-Based Canada – The New National Dream, A Knowledge-Based Canada rides on the high ground of a total economic vision for a new Canada. We start with the view that our world at a “hinge of history”. We agree with Reich that we are at one of those moments when the very drivers of economic prosperity are changing.
For ITAC, this knowledge-based Canada must embody two essential elements. It must rest on a foundation of skilled people, who consistently create new knowledge and are capable of quickly absorbing new technologies. Equally, it must contain an advanced infotech infrastructure, so that knowledge can be disseminated rapidly and collaboration can be ensured.
Based on this ambition, our report presents compelling arguments that Canada’s national imperative in the next decade is to build “mega projects for the mind”. We want the investments that were once made in capital projects to be turned towards human capital, in the form of lifelong learning. We must make every industry a knowledge-based industry.
To bring this Vision within our grasp, we crafted a set of Goals. We attached Strategies to each Goal, and we further proposed a series of Actions to realize the Strategies.
This has been one thorough exercise. But a launching-pad for a new National Vision must be a substantial edifice.
There are five Goals, and I will review them with you. There are twenty Strategies. There are no fewer than 73 Actions. Needles to say, I’m not going to review them al! here! But I will set out the Goals, to give you some taste of our report.
The first Goal calls for a transformation of the workplace. We think that Canada has to.become the most attractive environment for global investment in knowledge-based work. Behind this Goal is the Idea that the assembly-line worker is becoming a relic of a bygone age. In an information economy we must engage the minds of our staff; tap and engage their enthusiasm. We must train it to think, to use information, to value change, and to prepare – as Marshall McLuhan said – to LEARN a living.
Our second major Goal is to create a commitment to innovation in Research and Development. We want Canada to be the leading country for the performance of IT-based industrial R&D in the world, with particular emphasis on software development.
Third, we want to translate this new innovative talent into concrete commercial products, through effective financing. Aimed at the venture capital sector, we say that Canada must have a critical mass of investors knowledgeable In information technology, and it must have an adequate pool of capital available for technology investments.
Next is a competitive domestic environment in which these newly-born and well-capitalized companies will grow. We want a hot-house for development. We say that Canada must have a national policy and business environment that encourages open competition and the application of information technology to all sectors.
Our final Goal concerns our migration to the international stage, through a global outlook. All Canadian businesses producing goods and services that can be traded must compete and win globally, free of protectionist barriers. They must take advantage of the relative ease of exporting knowledge instead of goods, and sharing a commitment to continuous quality improvement.
Those are the five Goals which we think are required for the establishment of our Knowledge-Based Canada: The New National Dream. We think there can be immense rewards from following this knowledge-based path.
Of course, with this message, we are crossing the line from “external-missionary work to “internal” industry needs and concerns. This is the other face of association work.
The most important association prerequisite for success in “internal” industry-support work is to ensure that the industry is fully represented. This ITAC does. Our members account for some 70 per cent of the industry’s revenues of $41-billion, and the lion’s share of its employment of 300,000 people.
Through self-help seminars, committees and networking, ITAC strives to support its member’s industry objectives.
We create marketing tools, like our “Things Change, Economies Evolve” booklet. This booklet highlights Case Studies of successful infotech applications, and is in great demand as an easy way to visualize the benefits of infotech. We also create analytical reports like “The Enabling Effect”, that clarify how infotech actually works to boost company performance.
Of course, we respond through our Committees to specific regulatory issues, with papers setting out the industry’s position on telecom policy, tax incentives, outsourcing, R&D, and labour relations legislation. Regional forums provide serf-help seminars on topics like marketing, finance and export development.
We serve as the network node for the industry, with high-level Conferences. And we try to be the “information source” representing our members, through media conferences, internal communications and special supplements.
Finally, we offer industry-wide programs designed to galvanize our whole sector as a “super change agent” for issues close to the industry. “Making A Difference”, for example, is a program we are in the process of launching. It will hopefully inspire some ten per cent of our employees to volunteer to become active in Canada’s educational system. We are asking people to get involved on school boards, in the classroom as teaching assistants, in the community as links to corporate resources, and in the home as informed and supportive parents. On this initiate lies our future as a industry of knowledge-workers. Again, it crosses the line between altruism and self-preservation. But perhaps this line is largely artificial, in any case.
Every port – every harbour like Vancouver – faces both outward and inward. Associations like ITAC try to prepare the nation for an information world, and try to prepare their own members to thrive in that world. We export and we import, simultaneously.
It could easily be argued that this is one of the most important jobs facing our nations. Infotech industry associations are the appointed representatives of the “invisible empire” – the greatest change-maker in technological history. We are the interpreters of a world where prosperity comes from “empires of the mind”. It is our job to master duality: to handle the roles of being both prophet and servant, and to advance a world revolution through domestic excellence.