JWR Articles: Commentary - Canada 3.0 2010 (Featured speaker: Tony Clement) - May 16, 2010
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Canada 3.0 2010

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A version of this article also appeared in the June 2010 edition of The Business Link
Canada sets its sights on a digital win by 2017

For two innovation-inspiring days, Canada’s place in the global digital economy was the subject of discussion for more than 1500 delegates (plus several hundred bussed-in students) who attended Canada 3.0 2010. In Stratford, Ontario (home of Peter Mansbridge and birthplace of Lloyd Robertson), the industry-diverse assembly gathered in a hockey arena, shivering due to the unseasonably cool weather on day one; living vicariously through the Habs on day 2—the morning after their latest clutch victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That unexpected, gritty win seemed an ideal metaphor as Canada tries, once again, to own the digital-media podium.

Global news anchor Kevin Newman made an excellent choice as host and co-chair of the “Creating” stream. His passion for Canadian media and eagerness to embrace all aspects of the emerging technologies (son Alex had an early turn at the microphone, exemplifying the generational digital divide and offering his blueprint for redesigning how viewers might better “consume” his dad’s work. His mantra was to take total control over seeing “the news I want and the stories that interest me.”).

As he did in 2009, the keynote address came from Minister of Industry Tony Clement. He took the opportunity to announce the government’s to decision to plan to make plans. “Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity” was officially released during his remarks. The forty-page consultation paper, structured around five broad goals (notably for Canada’s industrial, arts and education sectors: “Digital Media: Creating Canada’s Digital Technologies” and “Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow”) is the catalyst for a 60-day window of input from the public. (All the details can be found on line: digitaleconomy.gc.ca.)

That surprisingly brief input period (the deadline is July 9, 2010) is likely in direct response to the deep-seated feeling voiced by many of the participants that “we’ve talked these issues to death—let’s have some action!” Accordingly, the consensus-built recommendations from the conference became an early submission in the process. Presumably, there will be a legislative response as early as the fall (when the long-awaited revisions to the Copyright Act of Canada are also expected—let’s hope those changes speak to the many, many challenges facing artists of all stripes as their work is digitized to gain a wider audience, but often lacking any viable business model to generate global revenue for their efforts.

On several occasions, the panels warned that the current business models were broken and, in the words of technology advocate Dominique-Sébastien Foret, future sustainability for media industries should develop digital product responses in order to “build the new to kill my old” rather than merely complementing long-established products (e.g., newspapers, CDs) with a largely-the-same version in cyberspace. Instead of static pages of news with revenue-weak (compared to hard copy) ads appearing around the articles, embed an ad stream that is relevant to each story in the searchable copy. Tweeting on the story of Montréal’s victory might well trigger the BMW web ad and also allow both the publisher and the advertiser to track their customer/potential client with digital precision.

Businesses and artists (especially those who are intrinsically linked to each other such as writers and publishers) are being challenged to harness the technology and improve their bottom lines.

Set Designer Debra Hanson from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival allowed that the 80’x40’ floor for the main stage production of As You Like It, was designed on her computer, then blown up to size without having to employ a scenic artist to painstakingly (and likely beyond budget) produce the key set piece. Will the audience notice any difference?

The “Bringing Mobility to Medical Devices” sessions were a most welcome late-to-the-party addition to the “Revolutionizing” stream. Imagine having the ability to carry a complete record (including diagnostic images) to the various appointments that, for example, people living with Acquired Brain Injury require from the onset of the injury.

Richard Alvarez (CEO, Canada Health Infoway) spoke of electronic health records as “a screaming need.” With health care currently at 12% of GDP, “We need some mechanism to bend that cost curve.” He went on to explain that the return on investment of digital imaging instead of X-rays (and the related increase in productivity of radiologists), improved patient treatment (the paper trail is largely responsible for inflicting the wrong meds or procedures) by going totally digital would range from $2-$3.5 billion annually. Cash-strapped governments were all ears.

Even as this session was progressing, there were 2,000 “transactions” occurring in 40,000 places and a pool of 500,000 providers delivering the care. With a digital record of all of these (stored in large databases for researchers and policy makers; accessible by individual caregivers and patients as required) the possibility for errors, over-prescribing and gauging the potential for an adverse reaction to a drug seem to give compelling voice to Alvarez’s scream for action.

The other panellists—Dennis Giokas (Canada Health Infoway), Diane Beattie (D.L. Beattie Consulting)—spoke highly of the progress to date and sense of collaboration between federal and provincial jurisdictions “We’re starting to work together differently … many hospitals are discovering savings by purchasing together,” reported Beattie.

Incredibly (compared to other “industries”) the implementation of standards is relatively recent. “Forty hospitals can now share images and, for the first time, no matter which vendor produced them,” she said. This leads to faster diagnosis and treatment and eliminates the need to redo any of the scans.

We heard that over 200 head trauma patients were sent to the United States in 2008 for Emergency Neuro Surgery at a cost of between $200,000-$300,000 each. Those costs should all but vanish with country-wide access to the latest digital imaging.

As is often the case, the most interesting part of the discussion came when the floor was opened to the delegates for questions. Almost immediately the missing link of patients’ rights (and notable absence at the policy development stage; perhaps the organizations represented might look to such institutions as the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and the Ontario Brain Injury Association for examples of the benefit of inclusion) was raised.

Questions such as: “Could I see results before my physician? Would I want my physiotherapist to be able to see all of my PHR (Personal Health Record)? Should I be the custodian of the record, or would it (like banking data) be stored in a central location?

Other questions came to mind after the clock ran out. Would a complete PHR ever be made available to insurers or law enforcement officers? The ability to immediately self-disclose a health condition in certain circumstances might be a real plus for survivors and their family members, but just what should be available, who ought to have access and how to ensure the individual’s privacy and security need a lot more study before the digital horse leaves the database barn. Perhaps a proactive response to the coming digital revolution in health care is in everyone’s best interest.

What will digital “victory” look like? Will the social-media revolution see grants awarded based on Twitter popularity? Will all television be found on IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)? Will a stroll through the stacks at libraries (largely responsible for stumbling on the unexpected while looking for material “I want”) be entirely replaced by search engines? Will important news items be missed if “I only want/get to see the stories I care about”?

By its 150th birthday, Canada wants to be seen as a winner in the digital economy. What will it actually take to “own the podium” again? JWR

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Featured speaker - Tony Clement
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