With companies as diverse as Hootsuite, Blackberry, Celtx, and others, Canada remains a major player in the international tech market, even as some of the country’s businesses find themselves pushed and pulled by the typical booms and busts of the sector. Strength in numbers makes surviving such cycles easier, though, and that’s exactly the point of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA).
The association finds opportunities for its member tech businesses and grows their revenues while helping to foster the overall collaborative brainpower of Canada’s innovators, commercializers, and professionals along the way.
“We have two key goals,” says John Reid, who has served as CATA’s CEO for 27 years. “Our macro goal is to advance Canada’s ranking as an innovation nation. We work with cities, mayors, and other officials to boost innovation rankings, which are rooted in our communities. Our micro goal is to supply resources and conditions so that each of our members can be competitive.”
CATA’s work makes it the go-to agency for advocacy, commercialization, market research, networking, events, and professional development in the tech field in Canada. And through the association’s Innovation Nation program, member companies’ CEOs are coming together to further the development of the Canadian high-tech environment.
with John Reid
What does innovation mean to your company?
Innovation is at the core of everything we do as individuals or organizations. We’re looking for new solutions to new problems and doing things more simply at a lower cost.
Is there an idea or trend that’s driving your company forward?
What drives us forward is having a real-time, responsive business model so that we can react in real time. It’s like the Toronto Stock Exchange; you see what stocks are going up and down, and you’re really working in real time. We want to do the same through our social media channels.
How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
Everything we do reflects innovation. We work hard to brand ourselves as innovative. Any communication we do is meant to advance that messaging. We walk the talk and spend significant amounts of time branding CATA as an open, innovative, go-to place in terms of business.
Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
We have no fixed idea, but we will let it lead us. Five years ago, we had no idea we’d deliver and curate a newsletter using technology out of Sweden. Forecasting puts you on a fixed road. We want to be on a path that allows us to have more engagement. Where that will take us, we’re not sure.
What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Internally, having the right people, who can handle working in real time; having the right skill set inside; and a CEO who can set a big vision. You have to give people room to breathe and innovate.
“When companies want something done, we are the place that can help,” Reid says. “For example, we have been leading the adoption of crowd funding in Canada. If it’s happening within a global context, then it’s a campaign that CATA should launch.”
Formed by Canadian entrepreneurs, CATA grew out of a need for Canadian high-tech organizations to have a voice in government. The idea was to have one face, one set of ideals, and a catalogue of capabilities. Eighty percent of CATA members are exporters, and thanks to the organization’s work, they can now pursue more global investment and partnership opportunities than ever before.
The speed at which companies adopt various technologies—particularly digital ones—is increasing, so CATA works at a fast pace, launching its lobbying campaigns in real time. “We turn the tap on when an issue arises, and we turn it off when the issue has been dealt with,” says Reid, whose varied background in international relations, literature, and economics offers him a global perspective on business, technology, and the economy.
For example, CATA recently held a call to discuss the use of bandwidth in Canada. This led to a campaign that allocated bandwidth to first responders so that they could talk to one another at fire and crisis locations. The organization also continues to advocate for cloud-computing technology in Canada, and through its advocacy, it has pushed the Canadian government to adopt a cloud-first approach to its Shared Services business model.
To be a more successful advocate, CATA has integrated with the nation’s higher-education community, with offices located on campus at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. “Having thought leadership behind our advocacy is a plus,” Reid says. “We have a pool of executives drawn from the faculty. We think, in addition to being able to affect issues in real time, these are the attributes of what a business society needs to be relevant to the marketplace.”
CATA also assists with the beta testing of new technologies, including, recently, an innovative conference-call platform with a cloud service, designed by a company called iotum. “We’re looking for people who are changing the game,” Reid says. “We work with them and recognize them for changing methodology for the better—whether that’s making things that add power or save money.”
As technology continues to grow and change, so does CATA. Reid has many future initiatives planned for the organization, including work on its shared-services resources. But he also likes to wait and see what comes to him. “We can’t predict what is going to come in as an opportunity,” he says. “But when you make a statement to the marketplace about who you are, the marketplace helps build the business for you.”