LOUD AND CLEAR by Denzil Doyle

Our manufacturing sector is dominated by branch plants and decisions about trying out new ideas are not made in branch plants but at corporate headquarters in other places.

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Another vote, another decision without high tech on the agenda
From SCAN's Print Edition

It looks like another federal election campaign is about to go into the history books without any significant attention having been paid to the country’s high technology industry. That is a pity, because if there ever was a time when Canadians should be made aware of the potential of technology as an instrument of economic diversification, that time is now. We are far too dependent on the resource industries for our exports and we have too many one-industry towns.
To be fair, Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP party, did propose a program aimed at making the country’s manufacturing sector more innovative. However, he did not go into the details of how it would be implemented. What he must understand is that our manufacturing sector is dominated by branch plants and that decisions about trying out new ideas are not made in branch plants but at corporate headquarters in other places. In selling his idea to a multinational enterprise, he would have to identify an innovation opportunity in a Canadian branch plant and then go with the manager of that plant to the corporate headquarters and sell it to a senior executive committee.

They would receive a cordial reception, but they would be told there is no way that the Canadian plant would be allowed to pursue such a strategy on its own, no matter how much money the Canadian government throws at their feet. They would be informed that both R&D and production engineering are centralized functions and those are the functions that would be responsible for any significant innovation strategy. They would also be told that any pilot program would be initiated closer to home and that the results would be made available to all of the company’s plants. In effect, the Canadian incentive would go toward modernizing several plants, most of which would be outside the country.

What Mr. Layton (and his colleagues in the other parties) should be doing is developing programs and policies that would create more head offices that can make such decisions on their own. That will require a massive restructuring of our financing industry, all the way from the angels to the banks.

One topic that should have attracted some discussion during the election campaign is Canada’s science and technology (S&T) strategy. Announced by the Prime Minister at a speech in Waterloo on May 17, 2007, it has attracted very little attention outside the federal government. That lack of attention on the part of the high-tech industries and the trade associations that represent them is a mistake, because it is a good strategy. It is based on the achievement of a people advantage, a knowledge advantage, and an entrepreneurial advantage through the exploitation of technology.

While on a visit to Industry Canada a few weeks ago, I came across a chart that explains the advantages and lists the policies and programs that apply to each. For example, under the box labeled Entrepreneurial Advantage is one labeled Business Development and under it is a policy box labeled Foster a Leading-edge Financial System and another labeled Stimulate the Supply of Venture Capital. The chart has about sixty such boxes that go down to the level of actions that have already been taken (e.g. College and Community Innovation Pilot Program).

It is not clear how the chart got originated, but it is to be hoped that it had plenty of input from the private sector and the trade associations that represent it. Because of the extreme importance of diversifying Canada’s economy, it is also to be hoped that every one of the political candidates in this campaign has read it. Somehow or other, I feel that those may be false hopes.

Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is a member of the Order of Canada, a professional engineer, founder and former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. in Canada, company director, mentor, consultant, investor and author of the best-selling ‘Making Technology Happen’. He can be reached at ddoyle@doyletechcorp.com.

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