Visionary pushing Canada toward cloud, identity future

Entrepreneur sees robust cloud industry growing from Canadian government's forthcoming digital economy strategy.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

The Canadian government plans to release a digital economy strategy by the end of the year, and one observer is gunning to use the milestone as a trigger for building a cloud computing industry secured by a standards-based identity infrastructure.

Neil McEvoy, a Toronto-based entrepreneur and founder of the Cloud Best Practices Network, is adamant the foundation of Canada’s new digital economy strategy must start with an identity ecosystem, which will bring a layer of trust and security but also the ability to federate across industries and with other countries worldwide including the U.S plan called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC).

“Once you have trusted identity, that is the foundation for enhanced, secure government services, better online services. And businesses and industries can leverage that for e-commerce," said McEvoy. "It would be sensible for Canada to look at the project levels, and build those up into an overall policy. That could be a keystone for a digital economy.”

He says businesses and organizations would have cloud services and applications with identity as a built-in security feature. Canada has this opportunity, he says, because policy-wise it is mostly working from a greenfield.

Last month, Christian Paradis, Canada’s Minister of Industry, promised to have a digital economy strategy in place by the end of December to stimulate innovation, new technology and the economy. The goal is to increase Canada’s competitiveness on the global technology stage.

Canada has a ways to go in some areas, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Information Technology Report.

It shows Canada is 38th out of 142 nations in terms of government prioritization of information and communication technologies (ICT) and 53rd in the importance of ICT to government’s vision of the future.

Also this year, the Conference Board of Canada, an independent, not-for-profit research organization, gave Canada a “D” grade for innovation and ranked it 14th out of 17 peer countries, with Switzerland, Ireland, U.S., Japan, and Sweden as the top five.

“Countries with the highest overall scores not only spend more on science and technology but also have policies that drive innovation supply and demand,” the Conference Board wrote in its report.

McEvoy's target is what he calls that “innovation gap.”

“Have you ever gone to Times Square and there is a mad guy on a box and people gather around, that is my role,” says McEvoy.

He created the Canada Cloud Network with the goal of building a Canadian cloud computing industry that attracts startups and investors and stimulates the technology industry.

He is leading an effort to create a new working group within the Kantara Initiative, an identity industry group, called Cloud Identity and Security Best Practices.

And he also is helping create a similar group within the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to help define a framework for government cloud computing using open standards that address areas such as orchestration, application management, key management and identity federation.

“I want to bring together protocols into a framework like the Brits have done with G Cloud,” he said.

The goal is to make Canada a world leader in cloud computing.

“There is an opportunity to write a policy from the ground up that embraces this new stuff and comes at it with an integrated ecosystem approach for ecommerce,” says McEvoy. “With federated identity, the principle is establishing common building blocks, by definition it is an extension of Internet standards.”

McEvoy, an ex-PrciewaterhouseCoopers business development manager, says the challenge isn’t the technology. Canada has an abundance of “fantastic engineers,” he says, but where it’s a bit thinner is sales, venture capitalists and marketing, “those places that help the engineers turn ideas into products that can be sold throughout the world.”

He thinks a digital economy strategy for Canada will help build that machine.

“If Canada can start to appear on the radar with new technology companies that have raised capital and are getting off the ground, I would think I have succeeded in what I need to do,” he said.

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