KNIGHTS OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGY: THE INSIDE STORY OF CANADA'S COMPUTER ELITE
Toronto, Key Porter Books, c1983.
Toronto, Key Porter Books, c1983.
Volume 12 Number 5
While smokestack industries like steel making and automobile manufacturing face a difficult and uncertain future, things have never been better for Canada's high-tech computer industries. In fact, according to business journalist David Thomas, who here surveys the corporate culture of these thriving concerns: "High technology now proffers the lure of individual and social well-being once monopolized by political ideology" and represents "an exciting, outward-looking quest for intelligent risk and adventure."
Thomas describes an industry dominated by men (women appear to have made some inroads into marketing), several of its individual companies, the deals, its ruling passions, and much more besides. The author suggests (though he does not provide in-depth, international comparisons) that Canada plays a very prominent role on the world stage. Northern Telecom, for example, is considered as "perhaps the most influential telecommunications firm in the world."
The federal government is seen as both help and hindrance. On the one hand, it has provided money in one form or another to foster the growth of several companies (Tarrnie Williams's Sydney Development Corporation financed its software business through tax shelters), as well as trained personnel and markets Technology (one-time civil servant Rod Bryden developed the federal government as a major customer for Systemhouse), Several high-tech companies are in fact clustered in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa (something .Kanata's mayor does a great deal to promote). Not only do they benefit from proximity to government, they also benefit from proximity to each other: this is what is known as synergy, the fact that technological growth in these circumstances exceeds that which would normally be generated by companies acting individually.
On the other hand, there is scorn for the "stern mouth puckerers of the revenue department" who decided in 1982 to crack down on research and development tax shelters in the computer industry. Also, several industry participants, imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit (government tax aid notwithstanding), echo Thomas's view that Ottawa's "belief in the country's inescapable mediocrity is an ideological foundation of protectionist policies in everything from the economy through broadcasting to the arts." I.P. Sharp complains: "On the whole, Canadians don't tend to think in global terms. They think parochially."
Thomas also has criticism for developments within the industry that are based more on sales hype than performance. One example is Telidon, "a solution in search of a problem" with systems "about as attractive as the yellow pages." Another example is LOGO, embraced by some educators with almost religious zeal, which Thomas compares with the Emperor's new clothes.
Tension between marketing and engineering factions within the high-tech industry is ever present. Many companies are begun by engineering computer whizzes who gamely attempt to develop sufficient business acumen to stay solvent. In some cases, when they acquire partners from the business world, they do not learn fast enough and are squeezed out. This was the fate that befell Murray Bell at the hands of Bytec.
While high-tech industry may not be able to provide as many manufacturing jobs as some of its more optimistic praise singers would like, it is obvious that society is rapidly learning to adapt to the new technology, librarians among them (QL Systems's data bases are described as "the most efficient aids to librarians since eyeglasses and hair buns"). This book will therefore be of interest to senior economics students and indeed all Canadians interested in the growth and development of these successful enterprises.
Paul E. Blower, Sault Ste. Marie P. L., Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
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