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BC can lead on Canadian innovation

BC can lead on Canadian innovation

BC can lead on Canadian innovation

Walter Pela | Author,

One of the most startling results of KPMG's latest CEO Outlook study is that Canadian CEOs have lost significant confidence in their ability to innovate and be the disruptors—rather than the disrupted—in their respective markets and sectors. The previous year, fully 96 percent expressed confidence about this, down to 69 percent this year. Encouragingly, however, they remain more confident than their global peers in their ability both to react to disruption (73 to 69 percent) and to scale up quickly (45 to 32 percent).

Now, while 75 percent of Canadian CEOs want to empower their workforces to innovate without fear of failure, here they lag their global counterparts, 84 percent of whom say the same. But it certainly isn't that Canadian companies aren't innovating, or that they're complacent or overly cautious relative to others. More often than not, they're looking at innovation differently.

Still, there's room for growth and improvement, and in my view we can look to BC's own technology sector for leadership in this regard.

As we noted in our British Columbia technology report card from November 2018, prepared in collaboration with the BC Tech Association and BC Stats, the sector has benefited from consistent growth over the past ten years, whereas other sectors within the province have seen greater fluctuations in performance. At more than 10,000 companies strong, the BC tech sector plays a significant role in the province's growth. Between interactive and digital media, clean technology, life sciences, information and communication technology, and IT and engineering services, tech in BC facilitates more than 100,000 jobs for our citizens (paying some 84 percent more than the provincial average) and generates over $17 billion in GDP.

What's more, BC's strategic location as a gateway to Asia provides our technology companies with new growth markets and opportunities to compete and collaborate at the global scale, lessons and opportunities from which can be cascaded across the country into other jurisdictions and industries. Yes, more investment is required, but we've made incredible strides over the last few years with new technology products and world-leading research.

And now is no time to hit the brakes.

There are, to be sure, a few challenges—not least in accessing talent and building truly world-class workforces. In this, BC technology companies align with the Canadian story generally: most Canadian CEOs (63 percent) say their inability to find the workers they need is negatively impacting growth, according to our 2019 Outlook. And discouragingly, less than half of Canadian CEOs (44 percent) plan to upskill more than 40 percent of their staff in digital capabilities, compared to 81 percent globally.

One avenue for growth that BC tech companies exemplify is strategic alliances. After all, the BC tech sector is already a fundamental cluster of industry, academia and government, all working together to achieve mutually beneficial ends. As it happens, economic and political uncertainties have driven a third of Canadian CEOs generally to pursue alliances with third parties as their top growth strategy (over M&A, JVs and even organic growth). And they're more interested in quality over quantity where those alliances are concerned.

Ultimately, 2019's Canadian CEO Outlook reveals a country of big thinkers and even bigger ambitions. It also indicates that Canadian organizations are at different stages in their journey than their global peers. We can chalk this up to less experience with new technologies or the cautious "Canadian way," but Canada has been slow to catch up to the new digital normal. We are on our way, and now is precisely the time to put our investments, workforce initiatives, and innovative strategies into higher gear.