Despite a competitive Canadian economy, we're regularly bombarded with messages that Canada is lagging behind on innovation. We've mistakenly equated a conservative approach to technology investment to mean Canadian businesses are falling behind.
What's one of the biggest misperceptions on innovation? That it's large businesses, with their vast resources, that are leading Canadian innovation. A recent survey of innovative businesses, by IDC and Salesforce.com, debunked that notion and found innovation is not being driven wholly by big investments in research centres, but rather through the everyday use of technology particularly in small businesses. These findings support the idea that it's time to change the conversation around how we define business innovation.
As one of the most connected countries in the world (based on Internet connectivity, wireless penetration, smartphone ownership and mobile apps usage) the consumerization of business technology is enabling small businesses in Canada to be innovation leaders – without big ticket capital or IT investment.
Small businesses are first movers. According to the survey, over half of innovative Canadian small businesses (those with less than 500 employees) are adopting technology faster than their enterprise counterparts. Small businesses' ability to act and introduce company-wide change quickly means that they can swiftly adopt solutions to solve their business challenges or opportunities. EPH apparel, a Winnipeg-based custom suit company, is an example of a small business that has transformed their business processes by using tablets and mobile payments in all of their out of store suit fittings. They have eliminated paper documents completely and have all customer measurements stored electronically. Their fast implementation of mobile technology in the early stages of their business has increased efficiency and productivity for management and employees. This ability to act fast lets businesses create meaningful change within their industry over the short-term and to develop new business models that embrace innovation.
It's official: e-mail is dead. For Canada's innovative small businesses e-mail is the equivalent of sending a fax. Almost 50 per cent of those surveyed are using other technologies to reduce internal e-mail communications including social platforms like Chatter or Work.com. These tools help enhance productivity and collaboration through real-time connectivity. Take Voices.com, a Canadian online marketplace that connects businesses with voice-over talent. They, along with 71 per cent of innovative small businesses using social technology, leverage it to communicate more efficiently which has allowed Voices.com, a Salesforce customer, to completely eliminate internal e-mails. Running a company without using e-mail is the type of small business innovation that deserves more recognition.
The future is mobile. Mobile cannot be ignored – it has become a critical part of everyday life with 65 per cent of innovative small businesses using it to instantly connect with customers, clients and employees from anywhere. Well.ca is an example of a company that recognized the shift in mobile technology early on and brought the first North American virtual pop-up store to Toronto. The store consisted of photographic representations of numerous products and consumers were able to download a mobile app to scan products and buy them on the spot.
While there's tremendous value in big ticket capital and IT investment, it's time to start giving credit to everyday innovation and the businesses across Canada that are implementing technology to disrupt their industries and do things differently.
Moving the needle on how we perceive innovation in Canada – and what we count as innovative – will take time, and the time to start doing so is now.
Warren Shiau is the director of IDC Canada's Buyer Behaviour Research Practice. He is an experienced consumer and B2B market researcher and industry analyst who combines methodological expertise with IT experience.
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