Thinking big about data: the new Canadian Gold Rush

Between 1896 and 1899, around 100,000 prospectors migrated to the Klondike region of Yukon, Canada, for a chance to strike gold. Now, just over 125 years later, the spotlight is once again on Canada, only for a new type of gold that will definitively shape the country's economic fortunes for years to come - Big Data.

A bright digital future for Canada

On a global scale, businesses and governments have looked to technology as a key driver in reviving and reshaping economies and industries that lagged because of the pandemic. Canada will be at the forefront of this global trend with a skilled workforce and a strong track record of technical innovations, supported by companies like Bell Canada.

Although the pandemic dampened economic growth in Canada (and around the world), the country's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry has advanced beyond expectations. In fact, even though the overall Canadian economy contracted by 5.2% in 2020, the Canadian ICT sector grew by 2.4% that year. It created CAD $230 billion in total revenue and contributed 5.1% to Canada's GDP, per Statista. This was great news for a renewed, digital Canadian future.

The growth of Canada's ICT sector is, in many ways, a harbinger of a new hope for Canadians – one driven by an unfolding digital revolution that is incrementally transforming the country's entire economy and providing significant growth opportunities for businesses. Statista reports that the Canadian IT Services market will show an annual growth rate of 7.54% between 2022 and 2027. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will help businesses and governments leverage Big Data like never before, sparking greater optimization of operational processes, faster innovation and enhanced productivity.

State of the nation: Canadian investments in emerging technologies

A recent report from TD Bank noted that countries with higher rates of ICT adoption see higher growth. With a government and private sector actively investing in ICT technologies, Canada is positioning itself well to create and to capitalize on new opportunities for investment and innovation.

The Restart, Recover, and Reimagine Prosperity for All Canadians report from the Industry Strategy Council (for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada), recommended that, through public-private sector partnerships and investments, Canada transitions into a digital, data-driven economy. When we look at Canada as a whole, it becomes quite clear that the message has been received.

Let's examine the case of Canada's developing Artificial Intelligence industry. Since 2017, the government has contributed more than CAD $1 billion to AI proliferation within the country's economy. The bulk of this financial support has come from the government's $950 million investment in the AI Supercluster Initiative. With government support spread across a number of companies and research institutions, it's safe to say that AI is not just a whimsical experiment. This support will pay off significantly for the economy – by 2030, AI is forecast to add $16.5 billion to Canada's GDP along with 16,000 jobs. That's just eight years from now.

The private sector is also playing a critical role in driving ICT sector growth. From Vancouver to Montreal and everywhere in-between, interest in and deployment of Big Data Analytics (BDA) solutions is surging. In Alberta, for example, Big Data firms like IBM, SAS, Accenture and HPE are helping the natural resources sector maximize efficiency while reducing costs. Montreal continues to be a burgeoning data center hotspot for enterprises and cloud providers alike. BDA players that present in the metropolitan area include CGI, IBM, SAP, Google and Microsoft. Toronto and Ottawa are also vital hotspots for Big Data and AI innovation. Toronto's AI-focused Vector Institute, for example, has received over $100 million in federal and provincial funding as well as $80 million from over 30 enterprise partners like Air Canada, Shopify, Google, Uber and Thomson-Reuters. In a later blog, we'll look at the Canadian-owned and operated companies driving the emergence of new markets around these exciting technologies.

Keeping Canada's digital transformation going

Canada's unfolding digital revolution will undoubtedly transform the country's economy. The pathway has already been laid through ongoing investments in emerging technologies from the government and private sector. Consider this - the IDC forecasts that by 2025, 60% of large companies within Canada will be leveraging some kind of AI or ML solution for business or IT observations.

That said, the new data- and bandwidth-intensive technologies that will help Canada create a world-leading digital economy require high performing and reliable fibre-optic networks with greater speeds and capacity than this country has ever seen. They also require connectivity to the most data centres, to reach the most business customers and the most Canadians. These data transport highways will be the cornerstone of a successful Canadian digital transformation. To better understand this need, we are going to examine, in depth, the exact emerging technologies that are transforming our economy and driving a need for higher capacity networks. Stay tuned.

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