IT industry needs a unified voice

The TJ is running an article this morning making the case for a provincial ICT industry association.

I agree.

However, there are industry associations and then there are industry associations.

In the past there have been attempts at an industry association for the ICT sector in New Brunswick but after government funding expired, so did the association.

There is a tendancy for industry associations to become organizers of golf tournaments and annual back slapping events. Feel good organizations that end up not being able to get private sector firms to continue to pay dues because they don’t see the value.

A good association tackles – hard – the key issues facing the industry. It gets concensus on the issues and works as a collective to address them.

I like the KIRA Awards program but the few times I have attended, I was amazed at all the back slapping going on. Here we were in the early 2000s, the Bernard Lord government was all but ignoring the sector (NB had the worst growth rate in IT jobs during Lord’s tenure) and the best the speakers could do that night (one that I remember vividly) is wax long and poetic about how wonderful the IT industry was in New Brunswick and how supportive the government was.

Now, KIRA is not an industry association per se but if an ICT industry is to be successful, it will have to speak truth to power and not be worried that the government will vindictively cut some obscure funding program.

A good ICT industry association will challenge and chastise government. Will publish statistics showing the harsh realities. Will inform the public on the truth not gloss things over with silly flattering of the government of the day.

A tough, action-oriented, annual golf tournament shunning ICT industry association that works hard and diligently on issues of staffing, access to capital, export orientation, diversification, etc. will, I believe, eventually get wide buy-in.

19 thoughts on “IT industry needs a unified voice

  1. I think you are getting ‘association’ mixed up with ‘lobby’. IF the companies that form the group do so by means of government funding-and EXIST because of government funding, they are hardly going to spend their time chastising government. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, as they say.

    That’s why in many places specific industries partner up with municipalities. It’s much harder for a municipality to get screwed, at least moreso than they are (if they’re up north for example).

    This way, the municipality can make the noise while the industry keeps their hands clean. In some cases, municipalities have virtually been taken over by industry players to a dangerous extent (see Waterloo or Sarnia). However, a good mix would be ideal.

    That’s exactly the problem with politics in NB, since so little funding for industries and NGO’s come from the private sector (Irving or McCain certainly don’t need to belong to associations to get their points known) then that reliance on government funds makes them have to tow the government line. Poverty is far worse in New Brunswick than most provinces, but its virtually impossible to get poverty organizations to do anything more harsh than put up a website with ‘suggestions’.

    Unions are even worse, and in NB are no more than trade associations. Unions are typically places of solidarity and yet rarely are that. The trade associations like the stevedores are mostly concerned with unions of similar character in other parts of the world. During the nasty oil refinery strike (which people have conveniently forgotten while a new one is being contemplated) hardly another union said boo.

    The teachers union is one of the most powerful, and in many parts of the world when one union goes on strike-they all do. However, go to the teachers federation website and they are not concerned with societal issues at all, just what they can milk for teachers. That’s a lobby group, NOT a union. Even with all this talk about poverty these unions have hardly done anything. There was a big meeting in moncton and I don’t think they even sent representatives and their site says nothing about such things.

    In fact, they often work against societal interests like in the case of pre-kindergarten where they oppose the use of workers who are not teachers in the public sphere, yet know full well that child development isn’t even a subject when training to be a teacher.

    That’s just an example of course, but between ‘associations’, NGO’s, and unions, those are pretty much all the ‘organizations’ tied up either divisively or to government. That makes it very hard to set up any kind of structure outside the box.

  2. Let me be more clear about my position. An Association of companies needs to ‘lobby’ as one of its roles and if there is conflict maybe it shouldn’t receive government funding at all (maybe startup funding). However, the role of an association is not just to lobby. It should do functions that add value to the membership (dues paying membership) and in my experience with previous IT associations they spent most of their time organizing golf tournaments, awards shows and networking events. Networking is a valid function for an association but in the case of the IT sector to get 100 or more firms to sign up I think it will have to be much broader than that. It will need to be a lobby group reflecting its membership needs to the government. It will have to look seriously at industry wide staffing issues. It should be an information provider on export marketing, access to capital, partnerships, etc. If the provincial government provides another $300k to set up another province-wide association and they don’t go into with a clear value prop for members, when the money runs out so with the association.

  3. You are right that an association is greatly needed in NB. We posted before oin this issue David and you know where I stand. I can tell you that I have seen more momentum for this initiative in the last six months from colleagues then ever before. I beleive companies are finally begining to see the challenges we face as an industry when we look at recruitment and professional development.

    Where I respectfully disagree is with the govt funding aspect of it. Like you I see the need for an association to be the voice for the industry in a non-partisan manner. Manny of the events that are heald around the province today are funded by the province, therefore why you only hear praise for the govt members.

    I am aware of a couple of initiatives in the works, and all I can say is sit tight and keep reading the paper. An association may be in the funnel…

  4. The former NBITA was disbanded after the $100k/yr for 5 years (by McKenna – I think) ran-out. The original agreement was $500k to start an association, with the intent that after 5 years, it would be self-sufficient. In approx 2001, at the AGM, I remember the motion to increase the Board of Directors from 12 to 25 (what a bad move, nobody took responsibility – I voted against). 6-months after, gone!

    Originally, each province has an ICT association, NBITA used to be the provincial association that was on the Board and Member of ITAC. Also for information, the last Chair was Bill Davis (xwave then), the Minister at BNB was Peter Mesheau and the exec dir was Bob Bouchard.

    Today, it may be more appropriate to have such an Association, since many of the IT Titans can pitch-in. Back in the day, cuts at Aliant, Rogers (not really here then), Smartforce (up and down and sold), CyberDesign, Spielo (up and down and up and down back then), Whitehill (only profitable latetly, certainly not back then) ALT, who else? (eh Mathis, start-up then…) Titans were not in a position to throw $50k each to re-launch.

    Today, this may be more suitable. Get Aliant, Rogers, Spielo, Whitehill, Anyware Group, PQA, Caris, ALC, Assumption Life, Centerbeam, TSI, Fatkat, UNB, UdM, Mathis, RemSoft, Provinent, Service NB, NB Power. Well, some titans that come to mind…

    Get them to throw $50k each, get Gerry Pond as the first Chair, and hire the best President & CEO east of Montreal, and GO GO GO!!!

    Food for thought.

  5. I think a memebrship based on number of employees like BC would be more feasible, but you make valid points. The companies we do have are much healthier now then in 2001.

  6. I think that’s where the problem is. Are we pitching an industry association or a government funded one. If it is government funded, forget the lobby, because no government is going to fund a group that just badmouths their policies.

    IF companies pitch in 50K that’s something else. That’s a big if, and if THEY don’t see the benefit, there is no point in a bunch of people at a blog saying “hey you guys, why don’t you put up 50k and start an industry association’. If they feel the need, then they will unless their idiots.

    However, once again you have to get down to specifics, not generalities. Like the business council you can’t expect IT providers to jump on a bandwagon to bring in competition. The ‘lobby’ would be aimed at getting more money for their industry, same as any other lobby.

    Trying to get other IT companies here is a different story. With IT setup the way it is, relocation isn’t necessary.

    Just to be devil’s advocate and for a different perspective, I know of many people who are ‘in between’ IT positions, as well as many who have stepped back to contract work or part time work. Now THESE people would have a vested interest in having a lobby where they’d maybe pay $100 bucks and lobby the issues that are being presented here-getting more IT companies in the province.

    Personally I don’t agree that simply bringing more government money or hiring more will do much. As David says, it would be most helpful to get some new blood, and these are the people who would be most helpful to the government to bring some in. The companies will lobby for more work and money, but don’t expect them to pitch in to try to expand the industry. Only a fool in business does that.

  7. A couple of points to make here:

    A) It is in the best interest of NB IT industry companies to bring in more companies and foster an incubator environment that spawn start ups.

    It’s in their best interest because job options and a creative environment are what attract and retain talented people. Attracting qualified candidates is the number 1 issue facing our industry today.

    There are two major reasons why we are facing this problem. The first is that existing employees have more work opportunities elsewhere due to a low number of startups in NB since 2001 and our failure to build an environment to support new businesses. The second is that after the bubble burst, parents discouraged their children from pursuing a career in IT and many post secondairy institutes put less emphasis on their computer science programs. The first problem is being addressed by points highlighted in section B, the last is “hopefully” being addressed by the new goverment appointed committee.

    B) “Like the business council you can’t expect IT providers to jump on a bandwagon to bring in competition.”

    If so, then why are Saint John IT driven companies supporting initiatives like:

    Or how about Moncton companies like Whitehill and GTECH forming the Moncton Technology Planning Group IC2 Initiative:

    Bringing in more companies is a good thing for the IT industry. The key players that I know think exactly the same way.

  8. It depends who the ‘key players’ are you ask about. A WORKER may like the idea, because I know lots of people in IT and most of them absolutley HATE their employers. I did a survey of 100 people in IT and the biggest complaint was managers.

    If you are an OWNER whose chief client is the government or a local company, you’re an idiot to say “I think there should be even more companies bidding against me for government and other contracts”.

    The ‘catalict’ program is a venture of PropelSJ, so that is only ONE example, and just look at their website and nuff said. Read through the ‘growth strategy’ and you’ll see their short on details. Websites and government ‘press releases’ are full of talk, on their ‘mission’, on four major points only one mentions bringing in new companies.

    As for thier catalict program, if your a tiny startup in Campbellton, you’d have to be nuts to get ‘mission advice’ from a Saint John competitor.

    As for ‘geeksonice’ I seem to remember reading that some of their most popular programs were being phased out. I think the guy running it or working on it used to post here and they were desperate for volunteers. When you can’t even find people to donate a little time, then you know your in trouble.

    Again, there is no doubt that companies like Whitehill and GTech will lobby for their interests. But whether their interests are the same as everybody else’s is debateable.

    I’ll say it again, if Whitehill ‘welcomes’ other data transformational software companies then they don’t deserve their 140 joint partners.

    A company can just as easily offer attractive pay packages and get foreigners from other areas to relocate to an area as they can attempt to build up a local base by welcoming other companies so that more people see the opportunities and therefore enter the field. That’s pretty spurious reasoning anyway.

    Anyway, UNB is showing high CS enrollments, while undergraduate programs across North America have shown a 23% decrease. Part of that is no doubt the increased community college curriculue, but also, not to put too fine a point on it, many people have discovered how few jobs there are, and what shitty jobs they are.

    Just a quick web search shows that Whitehill isn’t even hiring, so thats not a problem for them, while GTech doesn’t list any positions, just a general form. GTech seems to have been built up by the previously illegal VLT industry, so they have a vested interest in at least pretending to be civic minded.

  9. Dear Anon,

    A few assumptions need to be clarified from your reply. Sorry David for big thread..

    A1) You Said: “It depends who the ‘key players’ are you ask about.”

    VP’s, CEO’s, Board members and workers of the industry.

    A) IT is not for everyone. If these individuals dislike their line of work, perhaps they should consider alternatives. However, bad managers are universal to all industries not just IT.

    B) You said: “If you are an OWNER whose chief client is the government or a local company, you’re an idiot to say ‘I think there should be even more companies bidding against me for government and other contracts’. “

    I did not want to imply that every organization would want this. But, I know of only a handfull of companies that are non retail that deal with the NB govt. If you are banking on the limited revenue generated from this organization, your business plan may need a review.

    C) You said: “I’ll say it again, if Whitehill ‘welcomes’ other data transformational software companies then they don’t deserve their 140 joint partners.”

    As an employee of the organization for over 5 years with a vested interest in it’s future growth I can honestly say that whether the competition is in Moncton, Saint John, New york or San Jose we will always have competition. At least if we had local competitors, we may stand to gain an advantage in recruiting human capital. Here’s some more facts for you too..

    The 6th largest privately held software company in Canada, over 1000 clients in 45 countries around the world and a recognized leader in innovation all from Moncton, NB Canada.

    D) You said: “The ‘catalict’ program is a venture of PropelSJ, so that is only ONE example, and just look at their website and nuff said. Read through the ‘growth strategy’ and you’ll see their short on details. “

    Granted it is under the umbrella of PropelSJ, however it is part of a larger desire by the existing base of the SJ IT sector to diversify. I know a couple of organizations that are benefiting greatly by the mentorship that individuals like Gerry Pond have provided them.

    E) You said: “As for thier catalict program, if your a tiny startup in Campbellton, you’d have to be nuts to get ‘mission advice’ from a Saint John competitor.”

    From what I understand there is a refined matching process with mentors to make sure this doesn’t happen.

    F) You Said: “As for ‘geeksonice’ I seem to remember reading that some of their most popular programs were being phased out. I think the guy running it or working on it used to post here and they were desperate for volunteers. When you can’t even find people to donate a little time, then you know your in trouble.”

    FYI, I’m the “desperatly seeking Geeks”! I sent an appeal to the community like I do every year for volunteers. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am very straigh forward individual. I am also delighted to say that there will be some very good news coming in the future about the event as the commitee has grown and diversified.

    G) You said: “Just a quick web search shows that Whitehill isn’t even hiring,”

    fyi, We’ve probably posted 20 to 30 positions since we acquired inSystems, a competitor BTW, in May. Stay tuned for more…

  10. Don’t ever apologize for lengthy threads, especially if its full of information.

    PropelSJ seems to think a low profile is best, as their website attests. However, some more research shows that its not all smoke and mirrors, and as mentioned above, they do seem to be aimed at bringing in more industry players, at least thats what their PR states.

    However, the specifics are vague. For example, one blog points out that Maximum RPM, Votemail Express, Brovada and Mariner started as a result. I couldn’t find out any more about Maximum RPM, Brovada is light on history so I can’t glean whether the company actually started as a result of PropelSJ, but its doubtful, they seem to well established, Votemail Express is an interesting one:

    “As founder and chief executive officer of Q1 Labs, Mr. Flood was the first New Brunswick entrepreneur to successfully raise $15 million US in financing from an American venture capital firm.”

    Q1 labs if you’ll recall, was a heavily subsidized company, so the above comments about the separation of corporation and state are out of line.

    Likewise, to tote a familiar line of mine, Mariner Partners is primarily a ‘team’ of consultants who have been around far longer than PropelSJ and is made of a ‘Team’ who essentially either became unemployed and/or leveraged their experience from NBTel. Again, that’s all government baby. And again, go look at their clients and they are still heavily tied to government organizations and government subsidized organizations.

    As for Whitehill, obviously they are not having trouble finding people if they picked up 20-30 when they took those jobs from elsewhere. In fact, they could probably entice many of the people who may have lost their jobs when they bought that other company.

    If you look at those above companies, we can assume that they are now partners in PropelSJ, however, Bob Roach is the only name I’ve come across as for founding members.

    And if you look at these companies, then it becomes fairly clear that any donated time spent in other parts of the province is designed to bring people to Saint John. So again, as a program to help the province this is spurious, as the name implies it is a propel SJ program and they don’t give a rats ass about other parts of the province. IF the north had a decent airport workers could work in Alberta and fly home in the same amount of time as they could from Saint John.

    The central point though was that , indeed, corporate partners will get together to bring in outside firms. However, whether they will ACTUALLY do that, or SAY they will do that is the issue that cannot be evaluated. A poster at another blog maintains that the group has been around since early 2005 and clearly if those four companies are the only ones to be added to the roster then its effects have been extremely limited.

    In September they announced getting 32 new companies in 36 months, so clearly they are trying to make it look like they are making that attempt. That should mean there should be at least one new one by now, but I haven’t found anything on it.

    However, keep in mind that ‘consulting’ companies don’t have that many employees. In the case of Votemail, their PR already says they are located in Saint John but looking to expand ELSEWHERE. That’s not good news, because its the one very interesting company, however, at some point investors may say “we’d really like it if you were IN China if you’re doing business there”. And then kiss those jobs goodbye.

    So there you have it, if such industry associations exist in Saint John then its that much harder to form a ‘pan provincial one’ and we see a perfect example of what Scott mentioned before as ‘one city playing off against another’. This is something the PROVINCE should be doing, unless we just want to continue building Saint John.

    Down the line all these things get murkier, especially in Saint John. There is a new generation of workers coming along, and knowledge workers are more in demand. This means they are less likely to be enticed to live in a city like Saint John. While the people are definitely nicer than the snobs in Fredericton, the ever growing environmental concerns makes it a place where people will think twice. I know I’d never even consider living there.

    For Moncton we really haven’t seen much, apart from two companies. Geeks doesn’t seem to be much of an association yet, in fact I seem to recall a posting about holding a venture capital conference and being very discouraged by the outcome. Like I said, if you can get Whitehill to pitch in 50 grand to start an association, thats great, go to it. But owners and workers will always be singing a different tune when it comes down to specifics. A knowledge worker isn’t going to welcome investment that will dilute the workforce and make it harder for them to find work, and companies aren’t going to bring in competitors.

    WHen we see some examples of this then we can revisit it. Brovada has new partners, we’ll see if they can bring some of them to NB. I doubt they are even trying. Likewise, Votemail is setting up in China, lets see how much chinese business they bring back here.

    This is just critical evaluation, not badmouthing, nobody should take it personally but policies have to be based on cold hard reality. I think PropelSJ is the perfect example of what was discussed before as being a BAD thing. Again, IT and ICT are small sectors, so I suspect the mentorship programs will also serve the purpose of bringing people from other parts of the province to Saint John. But we’ll have to wait and see.

    We can notice that the province has taken down all the Regional Development Commission’s websites. That means something. As they are touting Saint John a lot it means that ‘regions’ are out, and ‘cities’ are in. That’s bad news for the north, although they are used to that. However, it closes down an association whose job was partly to lobby for area infrastructure and investment, that means it will now fall on municipalities, most of which are simply not equipped or trained for that.

    So once again I woud suggest that IF an industry association were to set up then it would either have to be by the province, or else other municipalities will have to ‘partner’ with Saint John. However, once again that is hard to do when the idea is to bring in more industry to areas, Propel SJ isn’t going to be interested if it doesn’t have to do with building SJ.

  11. The objective of PropelSJ is to create startups, not attract major players to SJ. From my discussion with members, I am told they are having success with approximately 18 startups created since it’s inception. It is proving to be a viable model for development of small startups.

    If you really want to know more about the results, contact Jeff Roach at [email protected]. I’m sure he will be more then happy to answer your questions.

    As for goverment, I was refering explicitly to “Granterpreneurs”. These are stratups that simply look to feed off govt contracts. I do support govt funding for startups to help them develop their marketing strategies, R&D, recruitment and sales. As for your example, to my knowledge Q1 was part of UNB’s incubator startup project which was funded by goverment with a goal to help companies develop and access larger vertical markets outside of NB.

    You said: “As for Whitehill, obviously they are not having trouble finding people if they picked up 20-30 when they took those jobs from elsewhere. In fact, they could probably entice many of the people who may have lost their jobs when they bought that other company.”

    The 20-30 individuals were a combination of students, people moving back from out west and yes people who have moved on from their previous employer. We do have trouble finding the right mix of skills and technical expertise, but things are improving. I’m impressed with the results of CCNB-Dieppe’s program, but there is a definite drop in gradutes since the days of ITI and BKM. Where i see a void is a good mix of technical knowledge and business knowledge, ehich is not limited to just NB. Also, There were no layoffs as a result of the acquisition.

    To clarify Geeks is not an “Association”. It’s a mechanism that enables knowledge industry workers from around the maritimes to gather and network. I might add it has been rather effective at sending out a message to the community that we do have an industry. it also lets us meet likeminded individuals which lead to oppotunities. If the people who participate talk of forming a movement and collaborate between regional areas then that is just another positive example of what happens when people get together.

    Lastly, propelSJ and IC2 are initiatives that were brought in as defined goals by the local Enterprise networks. I am unaware if Entreprise Restigouche or Chaleur have mandated a development of the knowledge sector within their communities. If they have, I’m sure govt would be more then willing to fund these initiatives to bring employment to the area.

  12. I don’t know about the 18 startups, if anybody can find a link I’d appreciate it. As said, the examples I found indicated that they are NOT startups but were companies that had been around awhile.

    And again, the ‘model’ we are talking about is provincial, not municipal. We aren’t talking about Enterprise Chaleur doing whatever they want or Enterprise Restigouche doing whatever they want. THAT is the problem. That is what the problem was in the thirties, when employers could simply whipsaw municipalities one against the other to haggle the cheapest operations.

    That creates a fundamental problem because then companies not only hear from the province, but then from specific cities in the province and often can get mixed messages. Check out the ‘technology triangle’ for an example of a ‘municipal-regional-provincial’ structure that has gotten quite a bit of press lately.

    I think what David mentioned is an INDUSTRY association, NOT a municipal one. Municipal ones then get caught up in all other kinds of issues. That’s why I say that far better would be a worker run association, they would have a vested interest in bringing in outside investment, as well as looking at broader societal concerns and more pragmatic views of building up the province.

    The other reason is that such growth needs to be tied into the province because it involves so many other things. Not to put too fine a point on it, but thats a pretty fine line to state that a company that gets startupmoney from the government and a contract can be disassociated from startups that are ‘grantapreneurs’. If thats the case then IRvings should be shut down immediately as they are the ultimate government subsidy pigs.

    That brings us back to the central problems where people have no idea whats going on in the province, and the other end of the province is one giant mystery. The north is going to have far different issues than the south, and in fact there is no hard and fast rule that says industry MUST be tied into knowledge sectors. They can be relocated just as easily as others. Government subsidies heavily favour the south, no point in pretending they don’t. That ‘wealth’ needs to be spread out-and thats provincial jurisdiction.

  13. You’re not understanding me. I fully support a province wide IT association comprising of both organizations and employees modeled after the BC example.

    There would be a annual membership fee based on the number of employees the employer has. This would range between $500.00 to $3000.00.


    As for the list of start up’s, use the email I gave you to get an extensive list. The only two that I think are apart of the project are eVolving Solutions and Brovada.

  14. I know that, I fully comprehend that. What I am saying is that outside of government it is simply not going to be done. All kinds of checks and balances need to be put in place for such an organization. Those with the most money will want the most clout, but as I’ve said, the needs of Chaleur and Madawaska are FAR different. In fact, I would be surprised if you could even find a SINGLE member from there. At the chaleur site they made big news about a swedish company there that hired ten people, but that is the only ‘success story’ they tout. In the north what they need is for Saint John companies to ‘spread the wealth’ yet as I’ve said, while they are growing, most indicated they were heading elsewhere.

    And the point is they don’t need it. As we’ve seen, Saint John companies aren’t going to be interested, they HAVE an association working in Saint John. There is no way Brovada is a ‘startup’, just go to their website and you can see that. Many of these CEO’s have been in the IT game a long while and often hopscotch around to new companies.

    It would be IMPORTANT to do, that way, rather than have a ‘mentorship’ program with northern parts of the province, it would be partnerships for the ones that exist. That’s a big deal. I don’t see it happening, but when it comes that’ll maybe be some good news.

  15. From my understanding Brovada has been around since 2004-05, which would make it a startup regardless of who is on the board. The company is in a transition phase, but still considered a startup. Now, if the business case could be made to these companies byt the Northern economic development agencies, perhaps a move would work.

    The biggest issue facing Norther NB, from discussions I have had with some of their people is that they simply do not have the infrastructure, “bandwith”, to support a ICT cluster. This is where the goverment should intervene and build the infrastrucutre required. Here’s an example:

    Nova Scotians to shift gears

  16. Revision:

    “Now, if the business case could be made to these companies byt the Northern economic development agencies, perhaps a move would work.”

    Meant to say:

    Now, if the business case could be made to these companies by the Northern economic development agencies, perhaps a outsource of work could be made to this part of the province. In the case of Brovada, I know several employees that work from home in Moncton for them.

  17. Thats exactly what I said. So the idea that the northern communities should be making the case is unrealistic. They have infrastructure problems which take precedence. However, it IS available, its just more expensive, so thats what I mean by a provincial lobby group. This parrallels the constant complaint about New Brunswick getting the shaft from federal investment. Likewise Ontarians and Quebecers say “well Im sure if they made the case theyd get investment”. We KNOW that that is not true, and if the province wont do it for its own regions, its a pretty hard sell to the feds to act any differently.

  18. The reality is that PropelSJ exists because SJ has a large concentration of ICT companies. Although Fredericton and SJ have call centers Moncton by far is the location that would make the most sense to have an association relating to the call center industry. Fredericton in the same way has a large focus on Elearning companies and have done well at promoting that. SJ has PropelSJ to promote its ICT sector. Provincial bodies although could coexist for the most part would be less effective. It would be the equivalent of putting the Automobile Manufacturing Association in Newfoundland. That’s not where the cars are built.

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