Digital Economy Expert Insight

Technology adoption: A keystone component to Manitoba’s economic prosperity

We are blessed in Manitoba with diversity. Our natural environment is abundant with animals, insects, plants, and landscapes that people come to visit from all over the world. Some of these species play an especially critical role that helps the entire system to thrive, so much so, our province would be dramatically different if they no longer existed.

Known as keystone species, they help make our natural world more adaptable to fluctuating conditions and ultimately, they support environmental resiliency. Beavers who re-engineer landscapes by felling dead trees along riverbanks, create dams that divert water and support the development of wetlands. By creating new habitats like wetlands, beavers create conditions that help other species of mammals, amphibians, and insects to flourish.

Diversity in Manitoba also includes economic diversity, and the breadth of our industries often is held up as a benefit of doing business here. However, our economic resiliency in the current world of high interest rates, slow growth, and labour shortages, could be aided if we looked at how to harness the keystone species concept in our economic ecosystem.

Let’s state the obvious: The world is not moving away from the use of technology. The shock felt the world over by disruptions to business and life overall because of the lockdowns during the first two years of COVID-19, meant businesses had to rethink how they could move forward without relying on working in person.

Pushing ahead

Even with public health restrictions no longer in place, the opportunity still exists to further push the boundaries of how we can better operate to find value-add opportunities that lead to improved productivity gains, decreased operating costs, and ideally discover innovations that lead to Manitoba becoming recognized as an economic brand that stands for cutting edge industries.

Here’s a glimpse at our current state: According to the Government of Manitoba’s Bureau of Statistics, nearly 98 per cent of businesses in Manitoba are small businesses, which means they employ between one-to-99 people. The top three industries for small businesses include retail, construction, and health care. For those approximately eighty-three thousand small businesses who are solopreneurs, the top two industries represented are agriculture and real estate. These are all industries that are ripe for innovations, but it’s not happening at the scale we need it to, yet.

When the Conference Board of Canada compiled their 2021 Innovation Report Card, Manitoba tied Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for last place with a grade of D- . Figures from Statistics Canada show that Manitoba and Saskatchewan often jostle for last place when it comes to their businesses investing in digital software and tech equipment; an important indicator that highlights how different provinces prioritize digital modernizations across their economies. The higher the investment in digital adoptions, the greater the gains in favourable business outcomes.

Our ecosystem

Now, let’s circle back to the keystone topic. Our economy is akin to an ecosystem with its interconnected factors that play a part in our provincial economy’s overall health and adaptability. If technology adoption is widely used as a critical indicator of an economy’s innovation potential, because it supports positive economic spinoffs, a greater uptake of successful digital adoptions in our small businesses would support wider economic benefits for Manitoba.

We are without our wolves, our beavers, and our bees in our economy, so to speak. We are experiencing the ongoing economic outcomes of not having this keystone presence throughout our industries. By keeping digital adoption and innovation on the sidelines, we have limited our adaptability. We are missing out on creating the vibrant economic ecosystem Manitoba needs to thrive during more challenging economic times.

Let’s not despair. If keystone species can be successfully reintroduced to their once native areas much like beavers were recently brought back to England, and gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in the United States, our small businesses can be reintroduced to the benefits technology can bring to their operations and to their bottom line. They need to prioritize it.

Make it happen

To get started, businesses should have a plan that outlines how their business goals can be achieved by modernizing their operations with new software, new equipment, and in some instances new communication practices that their customers, employees, and suppliers want and need. If this sounds like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be!

Manitoba is blessed with industry associations and chambers of commerce who can connect businesses to local technology experts who understand what it means to run a small business, because chances are, they operate one too!

If financial constraints are a barrier, the Government of Canada offers the Canada Digital Adoption Program (CDAP). This grant-based program intended for small and mid-sized companies helps fund a variety of digital modernizations.

Small businesses are the foundation of our economy. By making it easier for them to identify which technology investments will best serve their business priorities, technology will be a keystone factor that helps them not only adapt to changing conditions, but also ensures our economic diversity remains a competitive advantage.

Tech Manitoba
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