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Upping Canada’s game in digital adoption

A graphic showing a man using a mobile tablet.
A graphic showing a man using a mobile tablet.

One of the challenges Canada has long faced in being globally competitive has been the lag in use and adoption of technology by small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Government of Canada has had long-standing programs, including SR&ED credits that incentivize research & development, as well as more recent initiatives like the Canada Digital Adoption Program announced in April’s Federal Budget, aimed at addressing this technology gap.

Still, what may be more encouraging are new Government of Canada tools and services relying on technology platforms that are helping to make our lives easier. The CBSA ArriveCAN app is one such example.

Introduced by necessity during the pandemic to facilitate safe travel, for anyone who has journeyed beyond the Canadian border in the past year, the ArriveCAN app has become an efficient means to expedite the returning arrivals process. As Canadians return to air travel, and pressures on the system to handle capacity continue to increase, the ability to use technology to improve the overall system may be the answer.

ArriveCAN is a “Made-in-Ottawa” solution from CBSA that is now Canada’s top downloaded mobile application – reinforcing that Canadians will quickly accept and utilize technology to improve services they receive from the government.

For our local technology sector, this is encouraging news.

Government digital adoption benefits Ottawa’s local tech sector

To drive economies of scale, Ottawa-area technology firms have often had to rely on foreign customers to build this scale and expand markets. While our local tech sector has long advocated that the Government of Canada – given their dominant role in our regional economy – should be an early adopter of new technologies, the government has balanced risk, experience and value in public procurement. This approach, while understandable, has not always benefited Ottawa-based start-ups and new innovations.

The willingness to invest in new technologies and applications like ArriveCAN is an important vote of confidence for Government of Canada technology leaders to move quickly, and by extension, harness Canadian (and Ottawa-based) resources.

Opportunity for SME sector to modernize

Here’s where Ottawa’s small and medium-sized businesses beyond the technology sector also now have a role to play.

Over the next few years, we are expecting to see far more digital-based service delivery by governments of all sizes. From facilitating the passage of people, goods and services electronically with the Canada Border Services Agency, to integrated tax and benefits programs, to managing and benefiting from the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on area farms; businesses that have modernized their operations will be able to take advantage and operate more efficiently using digitally-enabled government services.

For SME business owners and managers considering how best to take the next step forward in harnessing technology, the Canada Digital Adoption Program is an easy option. This new program includes a grant of up to $15,000 for companies of 500 employees or less to hire a digital advisor and develop a technology plan, as well as up to $100,000 in an interest free loan from BDC to implement a strategy.

Our digital advisors at BDO are already seeing interest from organizations across the country looking to take advantage of the program and leap ahead. While there’s a direct benefit in being more competitive for businesses taking advantage of the program, it might also make a tangible dent in ensuring Canada is competitive globally.

The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it has also reinforced our need to adapt and be resilient. These may just be some of the ingredients needed to address the long-standing issue of SME technology adoption.

And most encouragingly, it’s our local economic anchor – the Government of Canada – who may have recognized this the most. While they’ve long had programs in place to pull SMEs along to adopt new technologies, it is a critical step forward to see the Government of Canada leading in the use of technology to help address Canada’s lag in digital adoption.

Mike Abbott is the Ottawa and Eastern Ontario managing partner for BDO Canada.