Geek Love Yukon Election Platform (Part 1)

Since it’s that time in the Yukon again, when possibly the grumpiest and most disgruntled population in Canada gets to stir the electoral pot, I figured I’d spend the next few weeks leading up to the election throwing my own two cents into the mix.

Don’t be surprised if none of your local candidates come knocking at your door with these ideas (though, feel free to borrow ’em, you guys). The hot air that’s lifting the fog off of the Whitehorse valley these days is obviously more about winning votes than discussing real policy – heck, we all know about the difference between election-speak and the closed door of a caucus room.

So without further ado, I hereby launch my bid to become the unofficial whiner of the invisible community of information technology professionals during this election. One caveat I’ll point out right up-front: this is not a comprehensive policy; it totally ignores most social and infrastructure issues. Really, it’s all about winning the silent-but-deadly geek vote.

First off, honourable candidate, if you want my vote, tell me your future government is going to develop a comprehensive, standards-based, publicly-accessible technology policy. And tell me you’re going to share it with everybody else in the Yukon and help us adopt it.

To support this policy, some form of arms-length management body, like an ombudsman, should be established to regulate and govern the government’s technology standards and the complex relationship it represents between itself, local industry, and the public.

Along with standardization of internal practices, the next premier also needs to renew his government’s commitment to a multi-year information technology sector strategy that would affect the government, the public, local industry and the local economy’s view of the global region.

In the past an ad hoc association of industry representatives called the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society has attempted to manage this important strategy on behalf of the government. However, the government’s support for YITIS is really just a way for it to shirk its formal leadership responsibility to the public.

The next government needs to pick up the mantle and adopt the work that YITIS has done up to now. They then need to fast-track its further development, adoption and management in the interests of developing a significant new facet of the Yukon’s economy in the short term.

Using this strategy, the next government needs to begin to lead us in an economic migration away from the Yukon’s roots of diminishing non-renewable natural resources and towards a more stable, self-renewing information and technology base. Let’s re-adopt the mentality of the “pioneer” but leave the past in the past. Think Ireland. Think India. Let’s trade our sore placer-mining backs for some wrist-borne repetitive-stress-injuries.

We can do this in several ways: improve our telecommunications infrastructure, improve the local economic and social community to promote adoption of technology into lifestyle, and collectively market our industry to the world as an effective base of skilled information professionals.

Of course, as I’m well-known to opine openly, the first step in this direction must involve a drastic improvement of the territory’s telecommunications infrastructure.

It’s obvious to anyone that our current infrastructure is stretched to the limit. Access to internet bandwidth fluctuates and degrades systemically. Cell phone calls, even from Wal-Mart in Whitehorse (the territory’s symbolic community hub), are of an abysmally poor quality and prone to being dropped.

The next government needs to pledge its support to this infrastructure upgrade.

Specifically, the next government needs to ensure we get internet access redundancy in the near term so that a backhoe can’t shut us down. That means more, bigger pipes south. The Yukon currently crawls along on a single link that bogs down painfully during coffee break when all the government workers go porn-surfing (sorry, you guys left yourself open for that one; I know you’re really just downloading pirated MP3s).

We need a 3G mobile phone network that supports live video streaming and high speed data transfer, at least in Whitehorse.

We need free or low-cost high-speed wireless internet in our largest “urban” areas, say Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson City.

Why do we need these seeming extravagances?

Simple: these are becoming standard infrastructure elements in the world’s information technology hubs. If the Yukon has any interest at all in building an information industry and attracting new professionals, we’ve got to step out of the IT stone age. We’re easily 10 years behind current global technology standards and unless we quicken our pace, we’ll never catch up to the opportunities that are floating around out there.

Are you still with me, candidates? Good. Next week I’ll dig into how the government can help everyone release their inner geek and how we can build a local information service industry to take on the world.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, September 22, 2006.

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4 thoughts on “Geek Love Yukon Election Platform (Part 1)

  1. As the President of YITIS, I thought I should speak up about your comments regarding the society.

    Admittedly, YITIS’ role up until now has been to work alongside the Yukon government to improve how contracts are written, managed and distributed to IT pros in the territory.

    YITIS has made huge strides forward in this regard (and yes, some backwards steps) but having experienced the before and after states, today we’re much better off. That said, our work is not at all close to being done.

    For example, some of the policies and processes can favour one type of business over the other. At present, larger teams are in a more positive position compared to single contractors working on their own. YITIS is trying its best to level the playing field.

    You state that “YITIS is really just a way for it to shirk its formal leadership responsibility to the public”. I disagree with this statement.

    In order to keep the government accountable, a form of organization like YITIS couldn’t operate on the inside. It would be too affected by personal politics, economics and relationships. On the outside, YITIS can stay at arm’s length and represent the members that it is set up to do. I’d really not have it any other way.

    As for your point about the new government being required to pick up the mantle of YITIS, that’s a good plan. But a long way from reality.

    Truth is that every department and the management within prioritizes IT independently. Some care a lot more than others; reflected in the quality of RFPs, process and the number of contracts made available to Yukon IT pros. It’s a long slow road, but I truly believe we’re moving in the right direction.

    By the way, YITIS is soon embarking on a marketing/awareness strategy for itself in order to expand its reach beyond the Yukon government. I feel this is another good move for our membership; we’re finally getting with the times!

  2. I agree the government can’t do the work YITIS does, there is some potential for conflict of interest plus, no doubt, the bureaucrats would simply toss the responsibility to the geeks who would flub the task.

    This is why I suggest that the government appoint some form of “ombudsman” (for want of a better term), who would handle this role.

    The ombudsman would perform several roles, going past a focus on the “industry” as the core of YITIS’ responsibility. The technology ombudsman would regulate the relationship not only between government and industry, but also between government and the public. This sounds funny, but it’s what I’m going to write about this week, so stay tuned.

    As well, the formal position of ombudsman (with the office’s salaried staff) would ensure that this valuable work would be done more quickly and effectively by actually paying someone to do it and making it a more formally accountable task in a public sense.

    YITIS can only be expected to do so much working on its members’ spare time, after all.

    So that’s what I mean when I say that the government is shirking: they’re depending on a small group of citizen-geeks to develop an industry plan for the Territory in their spare time. Plus, it deflects blame if you guys happen to flub it: water off a politician’s back.

  3. YITIS’ board had actually discussed back in early spring 2006 the possibility to hire a Technologist/Evangelist for IT in the Yukon. As it stands, it’s mostly me and a few others vocalizing our concerns and opportunities to the various departments.

    Add to the fact that all positions at YITIS are unpaid and volunteer – we can only commit as much time as we have, or want to, make available. That definitely leads to some gaps.

    So if we turn this around and have YTG hire a chief IT evangelist (slightly more geek than ombudsman I suppose) I think it could really do some good. That would be a stressful, frustrating role at times, and it’s one being played in part by ICT for the moment, but a dedicated employee is a killer idea.

    As far as characteristics go, you’d have to have a thick skin, be really stubborn but at the same time be wiling to hear all opinions and act humble/open in many situations in order to push your way through the big pile of rubble that exists today.

    One more point. YITIS actually gets paid to write industry plans/updates on a yearly basis by YTG. All of our documents are currently available online. Some of what’s in there may be of interest to you.

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