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Google Canada chief urges small businesses to seize digital tools

Google Canada's managing director Sam Sebastian addresses the Vancouver Board of Trade in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, June 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An American transplant leading Google Canada says Canadian businesses are moving "bad slow" in adopting digital technology.

Managing director Sam Sebastian says only half of small and medium businesses in Canada have their own website, while fewer than one in three use cloud computing.

"Does not compute. I don't get that. We have to fix that," he said Tuesday in a keynote speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade.

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Sebastian, who spent eight years with Google in Chicago, told the group there's resistance to change north of the border.

He urged Canadians to embrace virtual office infrastructure that has diminished substantially in cost over the last two decades to about $5,000 for a startup from $5 million on average.

Digital leaders outperform their competitors in every industry, he said.

"They have higher revenues, productivity, better market valuations. They just do better," he said. "Canadian businesses need to be embracing these tools."

He noted a divide between Canadians using the Internet for their own interests versus for business, giving the example of how the general public employs YouTube, which Google owns.

Every month, Canadians upload more content to the online video-sharing portal than all of the country's major national television networks and broadcasters did over the last 10 years combined.

Canadians are the third-largest exporter of content on YouTube in the world, he said. Some 90 per cent of views of Canadian content are coming from outside our borders.

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"But this is something that Canadian businesses are only barely beginning to take advantage of."

Despite the snail's pace Sebastian has encountered in the year he's lived in Canada, he's observed strong relationships, empathy, openness and tolerance for new ideas, he said.

"That is the hard part. The technology just makes all this go a lot faster and a lot smoother.

"In many ways I think Canada is the fastest team on the ice. We've just got to harness those skills."

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