Why the academic community is critical to Canada’s digital economy

business, Canada's Digital Policy Forum, digital, digital adoption, digital economy, digital policy, digital research, industry partnerships, information and communications technologies, Rogers, small business, universities, university researchDigitalization is happening at a furious pace influencing almost every aspect of daily life. It is driving growth, innovation, and productivity around the world towards a projected $20 trillion dollar global economy by 2020.  As such, a country’s prosperity is increasingly linked to its capacity to adapt to this intuitive convergence of new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) including cloud computing, mobile technology, and digital platforms.

Fundamental to this is the ability for academia, government, civil society, and business to work in a cohesive policy ecosystem to encourage digital adoption, ultimately driving competitive innovation and growth well into the future.

Many of Canada’s peer countries like Great Britain, Sweden, Australia, and the United States are investing in comprehensive cross-sectoral digital adoption strategies to best reap returns.

Like these countries, Canada understands that economic diversification and innovation are key to future prosperity—any sound Canadian strategy must be a digital strategy. This can and should include investments in broadband in remote regions and in areas such as open data, cyber-security, and access to information, as well as, linking Canadian technology companies to global markets.

Canada, often voted as the best country in the world to live, is well poised with a formidable infrastructure of world class academic institutions, an innovative private sector, and a government showing support for innovation.

The infrastructure is primed. Canada’s universities are “model users” and contributors to ICT, driven by student diversity, and faculty and research expertise, which is already incubating transformative innovation. Significant collaborative and multidisciplinary networks already exist across the country providing the capacity for universities, private and public sector partners, and colleges to work together in the creation of new technologies, systems, and applications.

Ground-breaking partnerships

Jeremy Depow, founder of Canada’s Digital Policy Forum

In the healthcare industry, these collaborative networks have led to improving chemotherapy, diagnostic testing, the life expectancy of premature babies, and recovery for stroke patients. In partnership with Ottawa Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and NCIC Clinical Trials Group, the University of Ottawa and McMaster University discovered that a specific combination of viruses prime the bodies of cancer patients to attack tumors.

But of course, these multidisciplinary collaborations extend far beyond healthcare, to creating passwords for digital devices using heartbeats—more secure than a fingerprint—and video games that find solutions to urban sustainability. Partnerships fixing economic inefficiencies have created energy-saving solar houses, smart fertilizers, off-grid toilets, and helped the forestry industry compete on a global scale.

Just last month, Canadians helped fight stigma surrounding mental illness through yet another joint effort between industry and university.

Through the Network Centres of Excellence, the Centres for Commercialization of Research, the Canada Research Chairs, industrial and other endowed research chairs, or in partnership with the National Research Council, universities continue to transform their knowledge and research into new digital products and services which are often commercialized in spin-off companies, incubators, and in other private sector companies.

Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, for example, is a business incubator, connecting researchers, entrepreneurs, influencers, and customers, contributing to Canada’s digital economy; while the University of Waterloo recently ranked in the top 10 globally for alumni who founded “unicorn startups” (those that have hit a one billion dollar valuation).

Where government fits in

For optimal returns, Canada’s government must also lead in the coordination of our universities and other centres to better draw upon existing regional strengths in research, economic development, talent and culture, and develop potential sectors for future growth.

Through policy levers and incentives, government can reinforce research capacity by enabling small and medium-sized businesses to collaborate with universities. Advisory and skills development networks can be developed to foster valuable connection, knowledge creation, and transfer talent via academic internships, research fellowships, and work placements.

Through collaboration with government, industry, and academia, we can catapult Canada to its rightful place amongst top-tier nations in digital adoption. The digital aptitude of Canada’s citizens and workers; academic, commercial, and research advantages; and broadband infrastructure are primed and ready.

This is why Canada’s Digital Policy Forum, in partnership with the Council of Ontario Universities, is holding a day-long symposium on Digital Adoption: Securing Canada’s Prosperity in a Digital World on February 15th in Ottawa to bring together members from each of these communities in productive discourse.

A digital future is inevitable. The socio-economic benefits are immense. Now is the time for Canada to lead.

For more details and complimentary registration for our Digital Adoption symposium, please visit www.cdpf.ca. The symposium will bring together academia, government, business, and civil society to engage in a discussion on barriers and solutions to Canada’s digital adoption challenge.

Jeremy Depow founded Canada’s Digital Policy Forum in order to strengthen dialogue and collaboration on building digital policy in Canada.

Tagged: Building Community, Jobs & the Economy, Technology

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