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Digital transformation in Calgary The disruptors not the disrupted

Calgary is a city primed and ready to take on global challenges - we’re already doing it. A city with budding entrepreneurs and future-thinking problem solvers. And a city that’s leading the $18.4 billion spend on digital transformation in Alberta through 2022.

Digitalization is a fundamental driver in Canada’s economic transformation, and it is Calgary businesses that are breaking down traditional boundaries and shaping our future with new ways of creating, interacting, and working. 

Home to more than 60 per cent of Alberta’s tech companies, it is hardly surprising Calgary is leading the charge in transforming digital industries - and creating new ones. Our key industries and Calgary-based companies will be more efficient, effective, and predictive by embracing digital technology. 

Stepping up software and hardware services with significant moves in mobile, cloud computing, AI and data analytics, Calgary is gaining a competitive edge on global counterparts and setting the bar for entire industries while they’re at it. It is with rapid advancements like these that we are seeing digital transformation quickly become the largest driver of new solutions and technology investments in the city’s business community. 

It’s industry-disrupting work.

Canada’s digital economy is expanding at turbo-speed, as cities like Calgary move to diversify into high-growth sectors like fintech, life sciences and creative industries. So, when the landscape changes so dramatically at such a pace, how do you stay one step ahead of the curve? 

Calgary Economic Development worked with International Data Corporation Canada (IDC) to look into the projected spending on digital transformation in Calgary and Alberta. 

The report found investment in digital transformation in Calgary was forecast to grow 16 to 23 per cent from 2019 through 2022. It forecast a 20 per cent spending increase to $7.5 billion by 2022 in the city with Calgary companies leading the $18.4 billion province-wide.

Even the COVID-19 pandemic can only slow the digitization trend, and only temporarily.

“The Canadian spending on digital transformation (DX) is forecasted to reach $28 billion in 2020 with a growth rate of seven per cent according to the new IDC Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” IDC Canada reported in August 2020. “However, the growth is notably slower than 2019, due to the impacts of the pandemic, but expected to recover quickly in the following years (2021-2023) with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent.”

The trend is unrelenting.

Take life sciences, one of the three industries in Calgary set to invest the most in digital transformation through 2022. Spending $627 million and forecast to grow by 21 per cent over the next two years, this sector recognizes the need for digital technologies that will aid innovation in a host of fields - from biology to pharmacology.

One of those holding the torch for digital transformation in life sciences is The University of Calgary. It was approved for $8.5 million from the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund for programming at the new Life Sciences Innovation Hub that will turn advanced research into commercial ventures. The Hub is forecast to incubate as many as 20 to 40 life sciences companies per year and conduct some of the most advanced research in the world.

The world’s next game-changing life sciences company may get its start here in Calgary.

But it’s across all the major industrial sectors that we are seeing promise. Calgary entrepreneurs in agribusiness, energy, financial services, manufacturing and transportation and logistics are adopting digital solutions to diversify, disrupt and streamline their business model and operations. 

Look at Attabotics, the Calgary startup that created an automated vertical system for storing, retrieving, and sorting goods that can help ecommerce retailers reduce warehouse space by 85 per cent. Geared to productivity and reducing capital costs, the automation technology developed by Attabotics defines the concept of groundbreaking work - and timely with the 99 per cent surge in online shopping in Canada as a result of the pandemic. 

The scale of the opportunity isn’t lost on Calgary’s tech and innovation ecosystem - rather, it’s fueling a new standard for business resiliency as key-decision makers acknowledge the pace in which things are changing and the strategies needed to ensure continued growth. Companies like ATB Financial, Nutrien, Suncor Energy and WestJet Airlines are all investing heavily and driving digital innovation in Calgary.

Calgary’s economy is at a crossroad. We can see the unparalleled opportunities digital transformation provides for business value creation - but there’s still work to be done. That’s where Calgary in the New Economy, the community-wide economic strategy, comes in.

Approved by City Council in 2018, the strategy is committed to advancing Calgary’s core industries by accelerating the development and implementation of disruptive technologies. Innovation and talent are two of the strategy’s four pillars of the strategy that helps governments, business and community partners to collaborate on long-term planning.

To become Canada's leading innovation ecosystem, initiatives identified for Calgary include:

  • Create a Calgary Innovation Corridor to be a point of contact to strengthen relationships among startups, scaleups, corporations, investors, and customers.
  • Build funding to support generational growth through new funding mechanisms for startups and scaleups and facilitate local and global capital to drive new venture development and growth.
  • Develop relationships within the ecosystem by curating and cultivating relationships between academia, enterprise, service agencies and investors. 

It will be the demand for talent and the changing needs of upskilling current employees that bears even more weight as DX continues to grow. Now more than ever, it is important Calgary sends the signal that this is the city to go to for leading programming and greater opportunity to secure employment in the new economy.

So, how do we do it?  

It comes down to a talent-first approach, something Calgary Economic Development is championing to ensure we achieve the ambitions of the DX study. To meet demand, the plan is to ‘attract, retain and transition’ talent – attracting top talent, retaining new graduates and transitioning mid-career professionals that require upskilling. 

With many highly skilled professionals displaced in the energy sector, much of the talent Calgary will be tapping into is already here. It is facilities like SAIT’s School of Advanced Digital Technology that addresses the digital skills gap and supports businesses transitioning to digitization. It embodies the changing landscape of tech talent training in Calgary.

It is clear - the adoption of disruptive technologies starts with finding the talent that can develop them.

So, the way we do business has changed. The needs of consumers have changed. The way we find and train talent has changed. And they will continue to transform, faster than ever.

It’s the businesses that embrace this shift and opportunity in digital transformation that will succeed and thrive. As Calgary Economic Development’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Mary Moran, says: “We intend to be disruptors in the new economy, not the disrupted.”

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