Innovative IofT Communities


photo-1428677361686-f9d23be145c9In following up on an earlier blog I wrote on Growing the North & the Internet of Things (IofT), I have had an opportunity to venture further into how SMART(the IofT) Communities, People and Ideas can play an increasing role influencing and driving community economic development.  Communities like St Albert and others across the province are advancing SMART strategies and seeing concrete success stories unfold on a number of new technology-based companies that are growing in their region.

Almost everywhere you read or hear the word ‘ innovation’ being a factor in addressing a problem or exploring a new opportunity and how people may wish to learn more about it: for example, this fall the Economic Developers of Alberta are sponsoring a course in Calgary on Technology-Led Economic Development.  Are we starting to see IofT transforming itself from a product or service offering under other industry sectors to being an industry sector to itself?

It is an interesting world we live in: we strive for stability, are reluctant to change and yet, we see chaos and change whirling around us.  We know that with change brings opportunities.  And the ‘Death Valley’ gap between a person having a wonderful idea and getting it to the marketplace successfully is daunting.  The Conference Board of Canada explains how we are good at new ideas and knowledge but suffer with commercializing ideas and products to the marketplace.

What I like about the strength of SMART communities is their potential abilities to influence the right innovation successes by representing taxpayer’s interests in IofT innovations.  Their internal buying power can encourage citizens to explore and solve problems and provide that market pull for the right solutions to come into the marketplace.  The challenge will be ensuring the IofT innovation has value to the taxpayers as customers.

SMART Communities, People & Ideas operate well within some basic economic development principles. The best innovative ideas come from those that work in that industry: they often know what the customer wants.    And most new jobs in a community come from the businesses in that community: local people with innovative ideas and resources to invest in their community.

photo-1423768164017-3f27c066407fHow much time or resources should someone allocate to innovation?  For business and communities, I would suggest that if you allocated 4% to innovation, you will be ahead of the pack.  That would leave 96% of your resources to operating an efficient and effective organization. That would give you opportunity to manage challenges and change in new ways (that the old solutions are not satisfactorily doing) while optimizing your operations (meeting & exceeding customer needs while managing your cost of doing business).

Innovations for the most part are going to occur: and the real question might be are your organizations being welcoming, aggressive and purposeful in doing innovation?  By being an active leader and participant in innovation, one should get maximum return and value from being engaged in innovation activities.

Bob at College
Bob Hall, Technology Development Advisor, AITF

Innovation is a process that can be learned and this can be especially fruitful in SMART IofT Communities.  As a side note, April 12 &13 is Alberta Smart Cities Symposium  it will be an exciting opportunity for me to meet leaders in IofT and Smart Communities and learn more about where the industry is headed.


Interested in Research & Innovation? Learn more at Alberta Innovates Tech Futures and GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation .

Growing the North is Moving Innovation Forward

Randy Vanderveen Photography

Growing the North, northwest Alberta’s prime industry development conference is just around the corner.  Starting with a Taste of the Peace showing local food industry producers and chefs, the Growing the North Conference is all about exploring, much like an adventure.

Being exposed to new ideas is only half the adventure, the other half is delegates working the conference to network with a range of experts on industry topics and community leadership.

Most delegates at this conference will do very well with their personal and operational (internal workplace responsibilities) networking opportunities (see Harvard Business Review table below).  It’s like see old friends and get re-acquainted.


A much more difficult form of networking is at a strategic level.  This targets industry developments and trends at 20,000 feet, putting them into a context of a future scenario, and seeing what it all means today at the community level.  The experienced GTN Conference knows that and in doing so, uses the conference to (1) understand how what is happening in an industry can lead to future likelihoods and (2) building a strategic network from the pool of conference delegates, can help form an action team to do  actionable items today.

“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another”. It’s about building of strategic leadership to set a course for action.  Once the leadership network  gets a direction, then the personal and operational networks come into play.

“The word ‘work’ is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves reaching outside the borders of a person’s comfort zone.”

Growing the North is an event where networking is encouraged.

How to get the most of industry trends and future opportunities?  When most groups undertake planning exercises, for example strategic plans, they often focus their attention on the short-term with a view to seeking improvements to the present situation: improvements like achieving efficiency, reducing costs, solving an issue and exploring opportunities, all very much in the present day.  GTN encourages its’ attendees to look at major trends and extrapolate a number of scenarios of the future.  Having positive and negative scenarios side-by-side, helps business or community leaders see how their decisions could lead to positive and negative outcomes.  It can help answer the question,

“How do the decisions I make today, support what I want to see or achieve in the future?”

GTN provides outlooks into possible futures.  Couple that, with people who share those outlooks and also more importantly want to do something about the future, and you have the ingredients to form a strategic network on an action item of mutual interest.

internet of thingsFor example, the topic on the Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS will showcase what tomorrow could look like in respect to technology. Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And their future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring their future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

If you are attending Growing the North, let’s meet and share ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities in your business and community: it’s about moving ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

The Internet of Things



“The Internet of Things is far bigger than anyone realizes” according to Daniel Burris in Wired .


As business or community leaders, you will be seeing more situations where machines talk to machines?  Is it important?  I think so.   And so does Growing the North:   the 7th annual Growing the North Conference is back February 17-18 with another impressive lineup of expert speakers including an Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS.

Machine-to-machine communications is about accessing and using data to make more informed decisions and that is where business is headed.   IofT is about networks of data-gathering sensors that measure and evaluate.  And where it plays out is when machines and sensors are connected to do something smarter, more efficient and effective than has been done before.

The TELUS IofT presentation will include examples of the hospital of tomorrow, just like the new regional hospital being currently constructed in Grande Prairie.


Advances in IofT are encouraging innovators to look at new innovative ideas in their businesses about what and how machines can communicate with each other.  What is interesting about this is, when the innovator presents such a new concept it is easy to understand why it is such a great idea and how the idea will reduce the costs of doing business for potential buyers.  It just makes sense.

I thought that the Internet of Things was leading edge stuff and it is and isn’t.  My favorite starting point for exploring a new subject matter is Wikipedia, it explains IofT’s early history back to 1982 when a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University reported its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold.  It has been around for over 30 years and today we are thinking it’s new.  That is how innovations often work.  It has been there but we don’t see it until WHAM: it is being estimated that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

So what is it and why should you consider hearing about it at Growing the North?


The Internet of Things allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing networks.  These Smart Devices are expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields.  It can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, bio-chip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, field operation devices that assist firefighters and inventory control.

Where they are now?  Look around your home, could be a smart thermostat.

A key component to advancing the IofT has been the development of minuscule identifying devices or machine-readable identifiers or chips.  Add a reader or sensor and relay the data to a software program, hit engage and out pops this intelligence that helps the reader make better decisions.  Wear one on your wrist and immediately know how your heart is doing.

IofT products can be classified broadly into five different categories: smart wearable, smart home, smart city, smart environment, and smart enterprise.

What is the value?  Attend the conference on February 17-18 and learn.


IofT is and will continue to accelerate innovation in the region.  We are working with a group of municipalities and small business service providers to explore such emerging opportunities under a regional innovation network concept.  The concept builds on Centre for Research & Innovation at GPRC as a champion and facilitator of applied research and innovation in the region.  More about the evolution of innovation in the Peace Country, in one of my next blogs.

Whether it is regional innovation networks, IofT or Growing the North, it is about change.  It is about moving innovative ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

What does innovation success look like?

Innovative Technology

Does winning the Innovator of the Year Award mean success in the innovation eco-system?  I think it does.

Congratulations to Integrity Technologies’ owner Lindsay Wadsworth on winning the Grande Prairie Chamber’s 2015 Innovator Award.

Lindsay (left) accepts award from GPRC CRI Director, Bruce Rutley

Lindsay like many innovators has a passion for solving problems.  He is successful because he saves companies time and money.

Lindsay recognized that real-time communications coupled with GIS mapping was needed by industry and government managers for potentially dangerous situations such as remote construction sites and fighting forest fires.

He built an innovative technology-based system called Sight Surveillance, a real-time personnel, asset tracking and logistics solution.  It is used in situations where decisions require communications and transfer of data are seriously limited because of location and geography. Sight Surveillance removes those barriers and helps field operators communicate and share intelligence to make better and quicker decisions in the field.

By solving the problem of accessing real-time communications in remote and isolated locales, Lindsay’s system provided clients with the potential to dramatically improve workplace safety and reduce costs by knowing where the assets were operating and at what level they were operating at.

How is Success Measured?

Success can be measured from many viewpoints and stages of development.  From viewpoints it could be financial, the bottom-line question are we making money or being able to successfully forecast and bid future jobs.  Improvements to workplace safety can be another form of success that is shared by both the private and public sectors. For governments, encouraging industry to be more competitive and resilient to change and thereby increase business growth opportunities is another way to measure success.

For an innovator or SME measuring success is about advancing an idea through the innovation process.  Milestones in Lindsay’s case included:

  • understanding and solving a customer’s problem
  • developing a concept drawing of how something should work
  • having it engineered and a proto-type built
  • and having it third-party tested in field conditions.

Lindsay accomplished those and more, he has successfully got his innovative product being used by clients.

Lindsay attributes part of his success to being able to access GPRCs Centre for Research & Innovation, a regionally based innovation service provider in his community and AITF (Alberta Innovates Technology Futures).

The Importance of an innovation Ecosystem

How important is having access to an innovation ecosystem? In some cases it is critical.  Most communities know the value of having strategies and resources for research, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

Dan Herman and David Fransen in a recent Globe & Mail article talk about successful approaches to innovation including: expanding the focus beyond start-ups to scale-ups; recruiting & developing high-tech management talent; building effective research-and-development support systems; better enabling & supporting industry-academic partnerships; and my favorite, pursuing disruption – “such as Peter Diamandis’s X-Prize Foundation is an example of how the world’s best and brightest can be induced to take on seemingly impossible challenges”.

Success can look like initiatives that inspire innovators and entrepreneurs with just the right leadership to show the way forward.

A Strategic Plan

For businesses like Lindsay’s, successful innovation has to be strategic.  Businesses and people fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea. A person needs to be energetic and purposeful in moving their innovation forward.  Being successful at innovation usually means having a process that is mapped out ahead of time and where possible having innovation process incorporated into how the business operates.

So success can be many things from a whole array of perspectives.  One of the biggest showcase of success for me is seeing that smile of a young entrepreneur’s face when he is on stage being applauded by his peers and knowing that he is successfully moving innovations forward.

Looking for Help with your Research & Development?

Visit our innovation blog siteIf you are into innovation in Canada, consider adding the next two ladies and their programs to your team and list of resources respectively: Irene Mikawoz with NSERC and Marlene Huerta with AITF.

Marlene Huerta & Irene Mikawoz
Marlene Huerta & Irene Mikawoz

We (GPRC CRI & AITF) were fortunate to have a very in-depth meeting with Irene and Marlene on how to access the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Alberta-Ontario Innovation Program: their programs help companies and researchers work together to solve problems through research that could lead to new ideas, solutions and products.  Almost all new innovative ideas will require some research.  These programs provide funds to companies and colleges to engage professional scientists and engineers to tackle problems and opportunities.

An example of NSERC grants is Engage:  college researchers can launch a new research partnership with a company on R&D that applies their expertise to address the company’s challenge. Companies gain by having added expertise focused on their R&D issues and by discovering what the researchers and the students working with them have to offer.

The Alberta-Ontario Innovation Program (AOIP) focuses on collaboration with researchers:  companies can access funds to address research and problem solving projects with colleges in both provinces.  In addition to getting top-notch research, this provides an Alberta company with a relationship in Ontario that could lead to market development in that province and surrounding regions.

Both programs could have immediate impact on some of our projects, including the Evergreen Centre for Resource Excellence & Innovation on solving questions and issues for low-impact techniques and practices on sensitive lands.  The Centre is a demonstration site built by companies to showcase their innovative ideas, research, products and solutions.

We know that the health of our business and industry depends on strengthening its research and innovation capacity through supporting more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses.  This is another way a region can further diversify by adding value in the form of new knowledge and learning.

Doing R&D on an innovative idea? Checkout NSERC and AOIP .    

What’s your Action Plan for being Innovative?

weldingWhy be Innovative?

In business, the fundamental answer is to survive.  Whether it’s the rising costs of doing business or customers wanting more but not willing to pay more, or yesterday’s solutions don’t seem to solve today’s problems anymore,  organizations need to be competitive and one of the best ways to be competitive is to be innovative.

So how innovative does my company, team or yourself need to be?  Not too much: being innovative in the right way in the range of 3% of your resources has the potential to keep your company fresh and more competitive.  Too much innovation will disrupt your company’s routine and practices that were put in place to run the business efficiently and effectively.

Organizations need to be energetic and purposeful in moving forward new ideas.

Now is the Time-8

It is at times like this when some of our industries are experiencing a major ‘slowdown’, that we see companies as not being as competitive as they could be. We know that in good times, companies are often too busy to think and act on innovation. They are usually filling orders and struggling with manpower allocations.

Now is the right time for companies to look into ‘the right new ideas’ to be competitive.

For some companies, the challenge will be unless the company has an action plan for innovation, it will struggle with answering what are the ‘right new ideas’.

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures can help.

AITF is asking organizations in the Grande Prairie region to continue to lead new innovation initiatives to help businesses be competitive through Innovation Networks that lead and facilitate organizations that can help business explore and act on the ‘right new ideas’.  Innovation networks recognize that the region’s business health or competitiveness depends on strengthening its innovation capacity and creating more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses. The region and province are shifting away from just possessing raw materials and looking to adding value to what it has through knowledge based factors.  Those knowledge-based value-adds are lowering our production costs and/or adding value to what the customer wants: hence making your business more competitive.

Now is the Time-11So as a business owner, how innovative do you want be?  Or another way to ask this is, how much innovation can your business handle without damaging the company or worst, bankrupting it?

Innovation to be successful within a business needs to be strategic.  You fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea.  So where do you get help?

Give us a call at 780-539-2718: you can explore and define what type of innovation will work best for your company and how best to establish your innovation action plan.

Now is the Time-14

An effective role for innovation networks to play in supporting innovation is to supply an environment in which innovation can flourish.

 When a company embraces innovation, you will be asking yourself many questions on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.  Regional Innovation Networks are all about moving innovation forward.

Are Patents a Sword or a Shield: yes, no and maybe?

imagesA recent article in the Alberta Oil Magazine titled “Do patents enable innovation or stifle it?” by Jay Smith and Max Fawcett,  spurs one’s curiosity .

 ‘Cory Fries,  the vice-president of corporate and legal services at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, says the table stakes on patent litigation make it risky for those who don’t have the budget for it. “It’s a very specialized type of litigation, and those types of lawyers are very expensive,” he says.’

You can answer the patent debate  ‘yes, no and maybe’ depending on your circumstances and viewpoint.

What comes of asking yourself a question like that is you start to explore and understand the value of a choice, in this case patents, in the context of what you hope to achieve.

When a company embraces innovation, you will ask yourself that question and many others on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.

Across Alberta, there are numerous organizations that can help move your innovative idea forward and in doing so, help you build and act on an innovation action plan.   Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) and Alberta’s Regional Innovation Networks are examples of organizations that help companies view challenges as opportunities and encourage companies to be curious about how they can improve their business operations.

Companies know that resources are limited and should not be wasted.  This strengthens the need to be curious, creative and innovative.

Alberta’s innovation ecosystem can answer quick questions, but more importantly is structured to build resource teams around the innovative SME (small –to-medium enterprises).  The teams can be based on industry sectors, technology, markets, financing and more: often the best teams comprise many disciplines.

Who can you talk to about Do patents enable innovation or stifle it?

Where are some of the ‘front doors’ to building your resource team?

Justin Riemer, ADM Alberta Innovation & Advanced Education, recently announced the province’s innovation ecosystem is streamlining its business and innovation pathfinding services by having the Alberta Innovates Connector service addressed by Business Link.   Further they have added  Connectica as a portal allowing innovators to network with SME innovation service providers.

At the regional level, the province has ‘front doors’ through its Regional Innovation Networks.   An example of a network in northwest Alberta is the Grande Prairie RIN led by the GPRC CRI.

In addition to championing the culture of innovation as a strategy in regional economic development, these organizations are very successful at helping the company build its innovation resource team to jump on opportunities, move innovations forward and grow more robust & competitive companies.

New ideas and opportunities surround us, so continue to be curious.  Consider building your company’s innovation team!