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Canadian Technology News
Former ITAC head slams government for dropping 'innovation' tag
Gaylen Duncan "Entrepreneurship should sell to the Tories,” Gaylen Duncan says
11/13/2006 4:50:00 PM by Howard Solomon
An Industry Canada move to bury the word “innovation” in government messaging is wrong-headed, says the former head of the Information Technology Association of Canada.
“Man, that's misguided,” Gaylen Duncan, CEO of ITAC for eight years until he left the organization, said of a report in Monday's Toronto Star.
The article said an unnamed director-general of the industry department has required civil servants working on a communications plan to be rolled out next month to delete or replace the words “innovation,” “innovate” and “innovative.”
For example, the article said the memo seeks “innovation” to be deleted from department's vision statement, which now says: "In support of a growing, competitive and innovative economy, Canada is a leader in the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable development tools, practices and technologies throughout the economy."
The memo suggests the new statement would say: “In support of a competitive economy, Industry Canada is positioned as a leader in supporting sustainable development technologies and practices for businesses and consumers."
On the other hand the newspaper quotes department spokesman Annie Cuerrier as noting that industry minister Maxime Bernier often uses the word innovation in public speeches.
All federal offices were closed Monday for Rememberance Day, so no one at Industry Canada could be reached for comment.
In an interview Tuesday, Cuerrier said she has not seen the memo so can't comment on its accuracy. She also said she has not spoken to Bernier or his chief of staff staff about whether government policy on the use of the word is changing. She did point out that Bernier did use 'innovation' in a press release Tuesday.
Duncan, who now consults to governments, including Vietnam and Sri Lanka, on creating IT policies, said Monday he is considering how to contact ministry to protest.
“I'm still reeling,” he said. “I've got to start explaining to them that that's what's going to make the Canadian economy competitive.”
The newspaper article speculates the reason for the suggested change is that the Conservative government is torpedoing the word innovation because the Liberal government championed it. “No,” said Duncan, “it's a Canadian strategy. It is bipartisan. It took a long time for industry to convince the government that if we don't improve productivity we're going to do. One of its components is innovation. There are things government can do to stimulate innovation -- I don't expect them to lead the economy through innovation, just stimulate innovation in the economy.”
It's just like the arguments he made to Ottawa about supporting the information technology sector, he said: “We're not trying to argue that the government focus on IT for the sake of the IT industry,” he said, but “because it drives all the other sectors of the economy.
“If you don't have an innovative timber, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation sectors, each of them is going to drag down the overall productivity.”
Although he's concerned, Duncan wants to be generous to the department. “The easiest way of interpreting this is to say ‘You don't like the word innovation, but you're not disagreeing with the concept. You just need a new term.'” A more troubling interpretation, he said, would be the government doesn't understand the role of innovation in the economy.
That would mean “they don't understand from . . . ignorance of the economic machine, or they don't understand because politically word innovation is associated with Liberals. That's hack stuff,” he said of the latter, “and I can work around that.
“If it's true that they don't understand the role of innovation in the economic machinery, then all of a sudden we have a really tough problem.”
If it's merely a word, he notes that 15 years ago the catch-phrase that got government attention was “research and development,” before the Liberals made innovation the buzzword. “So we all re-wrote our speeches and policy papers to use the word innovation,” Duncan said.
“Entrepreneurship should sell to the Tories,” he said, “but it's much broader that innovation. What else? I'm stuck right now.”
Computer Dealer News
November 24, 2006, Vol 22 No. 17
Formerly: President, Information Technology Association of Canada
Known For: Leading ITAC through the tech boom
Reason for leaving: To set up his own consulting company
Through the boom years of the late 1990s, this tireless and oft-quoted president of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) helped keep the industry's voice heard across the country.
Respected enough to be a member of the Y2K Task Force 2000, Gaylen Duncan could be found addressing the Empire Club one day and on TV the next between 1996 and 2004.
He's been a member of the National Research Council's Advisory Committee on the Industrial Research Assistance program, a member of the Round Table on E-Business Opportunities and co-chair of the Conference Board Advisory Council on Canadian Connections.
But today he describes himself as "basically retired, but looking for some fun projects" as a private consultant.
Often that means advising foreign governments on the best way to work with their IT sectors. His most recent work was for Sri Lanka as a sub-contractor to a USAid project in that country.
"Sri Lanka was quite unique," he says. "In all of the consulting I've done, it's usually industry that knows what it wants and government that lacks direction. In Sri Lanka it was exactly the opposite: The newly-elected government had a vision that included technology as one of its main planks. They had a plan for developing the high-tech industry. But the industry had no association, they lacked a forum to build a consensus and articulate what they thought they needed."
The government's position was formed by people who weren't from the industry, he said. The industry felt some ideas were wrong, but didn't know what to do. So Duncan was hired to stimulate the creation of an ITAC-like organization.
What he told the companies is that while they have private interests, they won't get anywhere unless they form a group that can create a consensus on the interests of the industry.
"I tried to create an environment where the companies began to recognize that as an industry they were more powerful, rather than each company lobbying. They should continue to do that, but also form an industry lobby."
He also suggested they hire a full-time person to lead the association, ideally recruited from a Sri Lankan who is working overseas and understands how to work with government but wants to come home.
Before that he worked for five years advising Vietnam on how to stimulate its IT industry. Reflecting the American influence, southern Vietnam was 'Let's do it and then we'll figure out how to make it all work together,' he said, while reflecting its former Communist influence, northern Vietnam was 'Lets think, let's talk, let's plan.'
His next project may be urging governments to get serious about malicious Internet activity through such activity as spam.
When he's not roaming the world, Duncan spends time reading business books and fiction either at his Toronto home or his cottage in Quebec. Interestingly, the man who is often a spokesman for IT doesn't have a Web site for his business. "If you don't know about me by word of mouth," he says, "I probably can't help you."
June 1, 2008
I received your letter yesterday about the scholarship request. Our family would be very pleased to have a CIPS scholarship in Gaylen's name. His career was dedicated to education and information technology development in various forms and levels across Canada and internationally. It would be an honor to have that commitment recognized in this way.Please express our thanks to CIPS and the Ottawa Board.Arlene Duncan
Contributions and Submissions Welcome
Contact John Duncan 1-306-789-3063