Last week was important for “infrastructure” in Canada. From September 10-12, Regina hosted the second-ever National Infrastructure Summit. Hundreds of delegates from the public and private sector came together to not only discuss the state of Canada’s infrastructure, but also to explore opportunities and solutions in finance, policy, innovation and citizen engagement. The summit was followed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) gathering of the Municipal Infrastructure Forum. The Forum is an informal body, bringing infrastructure experts together with municipal and business leaders to exchange ideas, build consensus and provide input to the federal government.
Infrastructure is the backbone for Canada’s economic success and quality of life. The roads and bridges we use to move ourselves, our goods and our services; the electrical grid we need to power our economy and lives; the water infrastructure that is required to deliver healthy and quality water; all are critical to the fabric of a Nation—especially in a country that is falling behind in productivity and innovation. Berry Vrbanovic, FCM’s Past President, has said that “the last few years have seen important investments in our infrastructure that have helped slow the rate of decline and given us hope for our future. However, Canada is at a tipping point; either we continue moving forward with the job of re-building or we fall further behind as crumbling roads, traffic gridlock and sky-high housing prices cost our economy jobs and growth.”
Though it won’t directly fix the deterioration of our civil infrastructure, it is time that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) makes it to the top of the list for discussion and prioritization. First, ICT will allow us to better appreciate, measure and predict the condition and need of our physical infrastructures, and therefore allow us to make better investment decisions as available budgets continue to decline. In a world where “everything is connected” [the Internet of Things] we will see the growing utilization of sensors and data management as we monitor our Nation’s assets. Big Data is becoming a community affair, and analytics will power their optimization.
Secondly, we’ve all seen the reports: a prospering Nation considers broadband and connectivity a piston in the engine of its economy. The UN has made frequent claims as to the anticipated improvement of GDP as connectivity becomes more pervasive and internet speeds keep growing exponentially [UN: Scaling to a Gigabit access could increase GDP by 3% each year]. Here, Canada is not doing so well, either. Organizations like iCanada are trying to change this. As we allocate our scarce funding for re-building obsolete civil infrastructure, we should think to appropriate funding for digital infrastructure as well.
Lastly, but most importantly, we need to consider what a Connected Nation (high speed Internet everywhere) can do for us. The applications are numerous and they change the world of transportation and infrastructure. What if we consume less, or more wisely? What if we travel less thanks to remote collaboration? What if we re-think what “mobility” means to our municipalities? It is ICT that not only provides the foundation for this municipal and country transformation, but ICT also provides the tools in collaboration, productivity and innovation that make us rethink the challenges we have with our available and obsolete infrastructure.
Instead of deciding what we need before changing our behaviours, maybe we should consider evolving our behaviours before we decide what we really need (and have to fix consequently).
With initiatives like Cisco’s Smart + Connected Communities and IBM’s Smarter Cities, we will continue to partner with governments and private sector companies, as well as with organizations like iCanada and FCM to help elevate the topic; explain the relevance of ICT; and shape the agenda for a better Connected Canada using state-of-the-art and 21st Century innovation, technology and infrastructure.