Canada is the short stack in the technology poker game. "We have to accept that and we need to figure out a way out of that problem," said financial analyst, educator and broadcaster Lou Schizas during his address on technology at the 30th Annual CanaData East Construction Industry Forecast Conference.
"We need to realize we’re missing a couple of components. Sometimes it’s about breaking out of the way we used to do things and doing them more effectively." When it comes to technology and the construction industry, Schizas said he understands the reluctance of some to jump on board with new innovations, but technology isn’t slowing down and Canada is already behind.
"Number one, the low value of the Canadian dollar makes any technology implementation acquisition cycle very expensive. The reluctance is also fed by market acceptance. You know, you think that the latest thing is always the greatest thing, there’s a testing period," he explained of the industry’s perspective.
"How can they get beyond it? I guess they’re going to have to find technology that is proven in another jurisdiction, in the same operating environment. Technology that can’t take the arctic conditions that we face here are doomed to failure. We have a series of conditions that need to be met before we implement technology in this country."
Schizas highlighted several areas where, in some ways, Canada is being held back from running with the leaders of innovation. When it comes to research and development (R&D) he said Canadians are bogged down in taxation and bureaucracy.
"I look at the way the model has been put in place in Canada and my redundant observation…is that Canadians are tax poor," he stated. "More of their money is tied up in government. That precludes them from being participants in funding startups. Leave the consumer with more money…they’ll also have more capital that they can deploy and take on more risk.
"The way our economy is structured right now, Canadians have to be more conservative. They have less money to invest."
He said the federal government has spent $11 billion on resources to support R&D between 2006 and 2014, which works out to about $500 million a year.
"It’s OK. It’s cute, but it’s not quite enough," Schizas added. "It’s not really driving the overall effect." There are three key elements you need to get a startup culture going, he said, to foster new ideas and technologies that amount to more than "crumbs off the table, directed to the political plans as opposed to the scientific or the innovative."
"One of the things you need is venture capital," he stated. "You need buckets of it, not drops of it." Another element is a fully developed business services group that consists of machinists to build the technology and law and accounting services for example.
"You need a fully developed business culture," Schizas said, adding lastly "you need diversity. You need people, from different parts of the world, and different ideas and different viewpoints in order to drive that innovation." When it comes to new innovations, Schizas sees the future as being in robotics and automation, which can go hand in hand with construction.
"When you look at automation and robotics, I’m seeing it now in the aggregates business, where there’s some test models on a circuit," he explained, citing drones and autonomous vehicles as other examples.
"Robotics is coming. You’ve got to see it (the new technology) on site. I believe that a man on the ground is what’s required to see … if the technology will truly be beneficial and not just one of those things that ends up at the back of the yard."
Schizas stated if Canada wants to be on par with other, more advanced countries, it’s going to take capital, which applies to all sectors.
"We need to invest in the right kind of infrastructure to drive productivity. We have to maintain our spending on technology in order to make sure our organizations continue to be effective, competitive and efficient," he added.
"The day when you decide that you’re not going to continue to invest in technology is the day you should be looking to settle up, time to get out."
The Second Annual CanaData West Construction Industry Forecast Conference, is taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre East on Oct. 22. This year’s line up of speakers includes keynote speaker Michael Campbell, Ken Peacock, Cameron Muir, Cliff Stewart and CMD Group senior economist Alex Carrick. For more information or to register visit www.canadata.com/agendawest.html. Limited seating still available.