The Information Technology industry is underperforming in Nova Scotia. That was one of the bold statements made at the recent Digital Leaders Summit in Halifax.
Put on by Digital Nova Scotia, the voice of the IT industry in this province, the summit brought leaders from business, academia, and government into one room to discuss export-driven growth.
Let me put some context around that first statement: It isn’t that IT is underperforming in its ability to attract talent and provide good products and services, it’s that we tend to jealously guard our little turfs so zealously that we fail to see the value of working together to reach new markets.
A quick trip around the room with a microphone brought out all kinds of examples of success stories from companies exporting technology from Nova Scotia, particularly into the United States, some of whom I’ve profiled in this column in the past, and others I hope to get to.
The overall problem with the IT industry in Nova Scotia, it seems, is that we don’t do enough exporting and there isn’t enough business locally to support all the IT firms that call Nova Scotia home. And we don’t really know what to do about it.
Of particular interest to me was a panel discussion moderated by Judith Richardson of Pono Consultants International, with participants Tanya Shaw of Unique Designs, Bill McMullin of ServicePoint, Rick Rasmussen of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Paul Kent of the Greater Halifax Partnership.
We were warned not to get whiny, so the discussion was pretty upbeat with good ideas exchanged on how to enhance what we now call the Digital Industry in this province. Here are some of the ideas floated around:
Don’t underestimate the sales function. In a world of social media and savvy online buyers, we tend to view sales as a bit dirty, but a professional sales team that believe in consultative selling, relationship building, and alignment of values goes a long way.
Know when to cut your losses. This is especially true with bad hires and bad customers. In the former example, we sometimes hire people who simply don’t fit in our business culture, and in the latter example, we conduct business that will never be profitable with organizations to whom we can’t deliver satisfactorily. But oftentimes we hang on to the status quo hoping things will change, only to find that they seldom do.
Know how to finance your operation, and when to take risks. We went all over the map on this one, but a couple of gems I got out of it were: you can take risks on certain parts of the business while protecting the rest of it, with the proper type of corporate structures; and “it is better to work with an A Team on a B Opportunity, than with a B Team on an A Opportunity”. Even with all this technology, it still comes down to the people.
Learn how to remove the barriers to the growth of entrepreneurship. It was on this topic that the “underperforming” statement was made. Besides learning how to work together on international opportunities, we should also seek out local partners within the markets we are targeting. We should surround ourselves with advisors who believe in our vision, keep testing the market, and engage potential customers as soon as possible, even before a product is launched. And at least according to one comment from the floor, government needs to adopt a better business attitude.
Another tip is to err on the side of openness rather than holding our cards too closely. As one panelist says, “if you can say something in a single meeting that can hurt you, then maybe you don’t have much of a business going.”