Canada’s Vibrant Next Digital Chapter

By Emily Peck December 7, 2020

Stepping Up: Canada’s Next Digital Chapter – the final installment in BrainStation’s 2020 Digital Leadership Event Series – took place on December 3 and featured leaders from Google, Hootsuite, Facebook and Instagram, EY, and Rogers Communications.

You can watch the full panel discussion here:

Canada’s digital landscape has exploded over the past two decades, with home-grown companies claiming their rightful place on the world stage. Meanwhile, global companies continue to tap into Canada’s unique ecosystem of highly qualified, diverse talent, and business-friendly conditions.

We spoke with technology experts from Google, Hootsuite, Facebook and Instagram, EY, and Rogers Communications to share insights about what makes Canada a place for thriving business, and what Canada can do to continue fostering homegrown talent.

Pivot From Resources to Resourcefulness 

Elana Chan, Head of B2B Marketing at Google agrees with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, that Canada is shifting from a resource-based economy, to a resourcefulness based economy.

More than 97 percent of the Canadian economy is made up of small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB), making them the backbone of the economy today. The ability for SMBs to become more digitally savvy with search engine optimization and social media will become essential to reach an international audience and continue growing.

“Fewer than 10 percent of our SMB export. Yet we know that those that do grow two times faster than others,” said Chan.

Chan continued, “We’re one of the only G7 countries with trade agreements with all the other G7 countries. So we have all the conditions to export more Canadian goods.”

Adapting to the given circumstances and pursuing new opportunities is a resilience woven deep into the Canadian identity. This is continuously tested as large firms pivot to stay connected and relevant in the minds of consumers.

“Competition is coming from everywhere, even from non-traditional competitors with the big tech firms entering into non-traditional sectors that they weren’t originally playing in, like financial services. Legacy brands are now finding ways to go direct-to-consumer rather than playing the B2B game,” said Stephen Megitt, Executive Strategy Director at EY.

Despite the evolving strategies from the heavily resourced firms, Megitt sees Canada’s big opportunity to stave off competition coming from entrepreneurial pursuits. “There’s a lot of small tech startups that are now competing against larger ones. This is primarily fuelled by a strong entrepreneurial environment within Canada.”

Jon de la Mothe, Vice President, Ad Product and Operations for Rogers Communications, has seen the technological transformations Canada has undergone over the past decades. When assessing Canada’s current position against international competitors, “We’re not playing catch up anymore,” he said.

Tom Keiser, CEO at Hootsuite embraces the disruption that is on the horizon. “We’re the dominant players. Some of [the panelist companies] are in dominant positions, and have been now for over a decade and we are going to get disrupted. Just like we’ve been disrupting those before us. The acceleration of disruption with the acceleration of technologies is going to be the norm.”

“We should probably all stop calling it digital transformation and just call it transformation or business transformation,” said Megitt. 

Organizations are making investments into technology and bringing experiences to life in a matter of weeks that previously would have taken months or years to complete. This requires a workforce and culture with significant agility to tackle the challenge of a compressed innovation cycle, and the opportunity that it can offer.

Leanne Gibson, Head of Industry at Facebook & Instagram Canada said, “We see an urgent imperative for brands to accelerate the pace of e-commerce adoption in Canada and frankly, around the world. With that, skills are required.”

“Every company now is a digital company,” said Chan. “That’s the only way to succeed, and digital skills are going to be the rising tide that raises all ships.”

Raise Your Hand to Reskill

As industries shift, there is a growing disconnect between available skills and available positions.

“We now are fighting for the same talent across industries,” said Megitt. “When you introduce this new context and [way of] doing things, every single company is now looking to have the same set of players on their team that can focus more in design thinking, human centered design, and UX.” 

“Demand is already outstripping supply across product, across design, across engineering in Canada,” said Keiser. “As the public cloud continues to evolve and really everything becomes digitized and digital products, the demand for being able to bring that cohesively together into a design and aesthetic that is easy, navigable and delightful…only becomes more and more important. Having that foundational set of skills becomes more important than ever for the success of anyone working in the digital space.”

Chan sees Canada’s success over the next 10 years linked to how well we retrain existing workers, “I don’t think we can leave people behind here. The digital divide is going to be really real and problematic if we cannot have basic digital skills for a wider population.” 

For professionals mid-career, changing track and learning new digital skills can be destabilizing. Chan, however, believes that you should not discount your current skill set. Rather, lean into your experience and transferable skills. 

“I’ve been in tech for a while, and there are a lot of transversal skills that we’re looking for, that people in more traditional, quote unquote, industries have,” Chan said, adding that you sometimes just have to take a risk. “You have to make the jump, which is a little bit scary because it’s unknown. But a lot of these traditional companies hire very smart people. And that’s what we’re looking for [in tech].”

De la Mothe championed the proactive people that saw their roles evolve from where they started 20 years ago. “The folks that started first to begin that upskilling, cross-skilling are the ones that raised their hands and wanted to learn.”

Megitt sees the global value that Canadian talent offers, but that it will take foresight from Canadian-based companies to create the right kind of environment to keep talent invested. 

“Companies all over the world are looking to grab talent from anywhere, because that’s the way that we work now.” He continued, “We as Canadians have to create the right short-term and long-term opportunities to help keep the talent here and keep introducing and innovating new technology, new products within those experiences.”

Fostering tech talent goes beyond the current pool of potential workers, Megitt sees the need for collaboration between social institutional structures like education and government to prepare emerging talent for the job market that has yet to be created.

“It can’t start when they get a job. It needs to start early on in life to expose them to STEM and to expose them to careers that they thought weren’t for them. We need to work with [academia and] the government more to create incentives and programs that will train and nurture tech talent, and give them a reason beyond just the job to stay [in Canada] and continue to work and develop the fabric of Canadians.” 

Adapt Alongside Users and Employees

With human-centred experiences being emphasized in almost every industry, Megitt notes that offering opportunities to lift others up is a strength that companies should be leveraging to create a more well-adapted, strengthened workforce.

“When everyone has opportunities to contribute and you have a diverse perspective and you have a diverse workforce, you’re going to generate great quality products and experiences.”

Chan said, “As we grow, as we’re getting more Canadian talent and we’re reskilling, I think we have to really be thoughtful of great representation across the board.”

“[Canadians] are all really proud of our multicultural society that we live in. At Google, we think about how important it is to be representative of our users. You can’t be representative of your users if your teams and values aren’t also reflecting those views,” she continued.

Keiser spoke to how brands and organizations need to assess their values and to actively reflect them through all experiences as consumers become more value-focused. “They are really thinking about who they want to do business with. They want to do business with entities that they’re aligned with on values.”

Megitt referred to Michael Bierut’s definition of a brand as not something a company creates; rather, it is created by the people that give the brand meaning. “How a consumer interacts with a brand is the meaning that is going to be associated with that brand. So ultimately, experience becomes brand. How [your company] goes about creating those experiences for your customers or for your employees will ultimately ascribe the value to the brand that you have.”

Social media has become a common method to connect brand and identity in order to build the one-to-one relationship and engage with their customers. In a year that has been dominated by change, Keiser advised that social listening is a skill all leaders need to utilize and continuously develop.

“We’ve seen a lot of big brands and companies make tremendous missteps by not listening and trying to dominate a conversation as opposed to really listening and participating in a conversation.”

“If we all put ourselves in the consumer’s shoes, we know our expectations are higher than they’ve ever been and that is not going to change, said Gibson. 

Timely information has never been more relevant than in the digital age and the explosion of ecommerce. Companies are expected to be constantly in tune to the customer needs and deliver personalized, immediate experiences to the consumer.

“Consumers expect all brands to be omnichannel and to have a frictionless commerce experience wherever they go,” she added. “If they don’t get it, they will leave.” Despite this expectation, only 40 percent of Canadian businesses have an ecommerce website. 

With many opportunities being left on the table, businesses should be designing experiences with data-driven decisions and leveraging technology in a much better way.

“Customer expectations have evolved, employee expectations and evolved,” added Megitt. “Our context for everything that we used to do is now different. We may never get back to normal and we certainly can never go back to normal digital operations either.”

Invest in Canada’s Future by Investing in Yourself

What does all the evolution mean for the digital future of Canadian businesses and talent?

Companies looking for growth opportunities should be looking for talent that are in the pursuit of growth, and creating spaces that motivate them to thrive.

“It’s hard to see where and how some of this disruption is going to take place. But it’s happening right now,” said Keiser. “It’s this continual acceleration of disruption and creating new and interesting opportunities and really every space that we’re where we do business in.”

“We’re learning about better ways of working and we’re learning about psychological safety and making sure people have what they need to actually be successful in this environment,” said Megitt.

One big decision individuals should be considering is how they are spending their time, and what can be invested today to earn sought-after rewards tomorrow. 

Gibson advised that it is up to the individual to take advantage of the available options. “If you’re that curious person who prioritizes leaning in and being on a learning journey your entire career, the opportunities are really endless.”

Chan said, “The passion and the energy that you’re bringing to the table plus your talent is a really powerful combination. If you are leaning into your superpowers, you can help people overlook a lot of your gaps.” She continued, “Everyone here is talking about they’re looking for talent. [Companies are] looking for good people. They’re looking for very smart people who want to learn and grow and do better and solve interesting problems.”

Megitt championed the Canadian stereotype of a perceived politesse around the globe as a superpower in itself. “I love that stereotype because I think we are [nice]. We take care of each other and we take care of our own…Being nice will never mean that we finished last.”

Interested in learning more digital transformations? Check out BrainStation’s Full Time Bootcamps and Part Time Certificate Courses.