Canada needs more collaboration (Guest commentary)

Knowledge-sharing key to increasing productivity

Canadians are competing across borders and continents. This is a demanding challenge and it’s not getting easier. While Canada has one of the world’s most prosperous economies, its continued success depends on maintaining competitive advantages. But there is something missing in our approach.

Media cite concerns over the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs driven by a strong dollar, cheap imports and border delays. Studies measure dramatic declines in Canada’s world rankings of economic performance due to “lagging productivity.”

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty emphasized the necessity of Canada being internationally competitive, stating “the way to do that is to increase productivity.”

That means capitalizing on the potential offered by information and communications technologies. Of all economic sectors, this one brings the greatest potential contribution to productivity and economic growth.

This point was reinforced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last spring. As he released Canada’s national science and technology strategy, he said “no country can remain prosperous and healthy without reinvesting a substantial portion of its wealth in science and technology.”

What should be added, however, is widespread recognition that competitive success depends not only on innovation but collaboration. If information is kept in silos and there is ineffective knowledge sharing, productivity suffers. Collaboration is necessary in every sector — both in public and private organizations and from small businesses to large enterprises.

Collaboration is a major theme of the 2007 Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA). The CIPA provides a showcase for achievements in productivity and innovation, and facilitates collaboration among sectors and regions of the country by sharing the lessons of excellent managers of individual organizations.

There are many such examples found in CIPA case studies. In the education sector, school systems have invested heavily in technology to ensure students are prepared for the working world. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Durham College have taken this movement to the next level.

UOIT and Durham wanted to implement a technological approach to teaching and learning that was consistent with their goal to prepare students to work in an always-on, always-connected world. UOIT shares a campus with Durham College in Oshawa, Ont. Both institutions wanted to increase collaboration and communication among faculty, students and peers so they developed an innovative initiative called the “Mobile Learning Program.”

The program provides more than 6,000 students and 400 faculty members with fully equipped laptops. The software on the student laptops matches the specific curriculum and application needs of their program, and everyone works on the same IT platform, so collaborating on projects in or outside of the classroom is easier.

Education isn’t the only sector recognizing the need for more collaboration. Graham Group is a Calgary-based construction company that began as a small, family-run business and over the past five years has ballooned into a leading contracting organization, with 2,100 employees managing 200 construction sites in North America.

Graham Group’s rapid growth was accompanied by increasingly difficult business challenges. It had to maintain control over operations across a far-flung organization with a consistent set of business processes and the ability to share project-management information in real time.

The company implemented the “toolbox,” a suite of integrated software applications used by all employees that provides a consistent set of processes covering all aspects of business.

The toolbox supports new levels of cost control, operational efficiency and information sharing. It facilitates knowledge sharing throughout the company and among its contractors, business partners and customers.

Both UOIT/Durham College and Graham Group were recognized for their collaborative technology implementations in the 2006 CIPA competition.

The 2007 CIPA competition, which has a record number of 90 finalists, has introduced collaboration as a new competitive category to emphasize the sharing of knowledge about innovation among industries, sectors and regions is an important strategy for Canadian competitiveness. The 2007 awards will be handed out Nov. 14 at the CIPA Gala Banquet in Toronto.

Norm Kirkpatrick is the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Information Productivity Awards in Toronto. For more information, visit www.cipa.ca.

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