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More Canadian executives see need to adapt to changing world

Senior business manager discussing work with his colleagues.

Jacob Wackerhausen/Thinkstock

A growing number of Canadian executives are casting aside their anxiety and embracing the need to adapt quickly to dramatic changes in everything from the way they employ resources and incorporate new technologies to how they interact with customers. But a new survey says they face some tough hurdles on the road to a brighter, more innovative future in a fiercely competitive global marketplace.

Topping the list of Canadian concerns is the need to lure and retain the most talented people with the right skills, according to 79 per cent of executives who participated in the latest annual global survey conducted for General Electric Co. But only 15 per cent give their hiring record a passing grade. That's far below the global average of 32 per cent who rank their companies highly in their ability to attract and hold on to the most sought-after of employees.

The innovation survey is in its fourth year and Canada has been included for the past three. GE uses the results, which consist of interviews with about 3,200 senior executives in 26 countries, to update its innovation barometer annually.

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Canada's score is improving in such areas as a willingness to collaborate and share information, a recognition that innovation is essential and a belief that government is providing more efficient backing. Canada is also gaining more respect internationally for its efforts, as 61 per cent of foreign executives say the country has developed a framework in which innovation can flourish.

Canadians themselves are becoming more pessimistic. Only 67 per cent of them like the current environment for innovation, down sharply from 80 per cent in the last survey. Like their counterparts in other countries, Canadians say governments need to do more to reduce bureaucratic red tape faced by companies seeking assistance for innovation, protect their intellectual property and do a better job of aligning student programs with their evolving needs.

But Ottawa can't be saddled with the blame for Canadians' poor record when it comes to adopting big data and other analytic tools. A mere 25 per cent of Canadian respondents indicated their companies are positioned to take advantage of these important developments. A remarkable 44 per cent said they had never even heard of big data and 16 per cent described it as more of a buzzword than a valuable piece of the innovation puzzle.

Other hurdles to effective disruption of outdated business models include internal inertia and a reluctance to make changes that could put existing revenue streams at risk.

Sixty per cent of Canadians also said they had never heard of the "Industrial Internet," compared with a global average of 44 per cent. Which shows that GE, which developed the term to describe the integration of sophisticated machinery, software, sensors and analytic tools, has a big selling job ahead.

Globally, one-quarter of respondents say they are not prepared for the advent of big data, about equal to the number of executives who have no plans to devise a strategy to incorporate it.

As might be expected, companies in emerging markets are more eager than their counterparts in the developed world to embrace big data and other technological change to boost their competitiveness. Turkey and Algeria lead the big data parade, with 90 per cent of executives on board, followed by Mexico (85 per cent), South Korea (84 per cent) and China and Brazil at 83 per cent.

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Only 43 per cent of the Canadians polled believe we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution, which ranks us ahead of Britain (38 per cent), Japan at 32 per cent and Germany at only 26 per cent. By contrast, 72 per cent of Chinese believe the world is in the midst of a seismic industrial shift.

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About the Author
Senior Economics Writer and Global Markets Columnist

Brian Milner is a senior economics writer and global markets columnist. In a long career at The Globe and Mail, he has covered diverse business beats, including international trade, the automotive industry, media, debt markets, banking and the business side of sports. More


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