The Internet of Things is a recent trend that is driving Canada’s information and communications technologies sector. No surprise there – it is believed to be the next wave of innovation that will transform many sectors such as manufacturing, energy and transportation. The idea of having everything from your fridge to your thermostat adjusted through an app on your smart phone is pervading consumer culture.

Enterprises, meanwhile, have realized that bringing the Internet of Things into their operations can yield productivity gains. Enterprises in various industries can now equip almost any industrial machine with a wide range of sensors and other instrumentation and connect them to the Internet. This allows them to control the machines remotely and, most importantly, it allows them to collect large amounts of data from these machines, which can produce valuable business insights that were otherwise unavailable.

Canada is well positioned in key technologies that enable the Internet of Things, technologies such as wireless embedded modules, sensors and wireless communication equipment. Canada has the most potential in data analytics, an area that hinges on strong software development skills and deep industry expertise. While Canada has proven capabilities in software development, the key differentiator is Canada’s expertise in sectors such as oil and gas, mining and transportation. Canadian companies are leveraging this expertise to develop cutting-edge data analytics. In addition, telecom operators are looking to deploy next-generation networks to meet the demands from consumers and the rapidly increasing number of devices and equipment that are connected to the internet, another area of growth opportunities for Canadian companies.

Canada’s expertise has also been recognized by industry players. Cisco, one of the leading companies in the Internet of Things, opened a centre of excellence in Toronto, as part of a network of innovation centres worldwide that are focused Internet of Things technologies.

ICT companies, while broad in scope, do have one thing in common, according to Cédric Irambona, Export Development Canada’s (EDC) ICT sector adviser. Most of them export. We spoke with Irambona to explore the opportunities in this dynamic sector.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities at EDC.

As the adviser for the ICT sector, my job is divided into two main parts. First, I support our business development teams in serving Canadian companies in the ICT sector. Second, one of EDC’s strategies is to connect Canadian companies to some of EDC’s international customers in various sectors. My role is to understand which ICT companies have or are developing products or solutions that our international customers are looking for.

What kind of companies export in the ICT sector?

This sector is export-oriented and, in fact, very few companies develop products targeted only at the Canadian market. Very often, you have companies that start up and their first client is a foreign company. Also, the sector includes companies that provide software products and these companies tend to be more nimble as they can enter new markets without making large investments.

Where are the export opportunities for companies in the ICT sector now?

The sector is broad and the industry that a company serves will dictate the region that the company will target. However, generally speaking the companies we work with are mostly active in the United States, Western Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

Are there supply chain opportunities for Canadian companies in this sector?

Canadian companies tend to be small and many of them partner with larger companies to bring their products to market. Some of the companies have their product integrated into an end product that their customers offer and others have reseller agreements to benefit from their partners’ global reach.

What are the characteristics of companies in the ICT sector that do well at exporting?

The ones that are focused. We see a lot of companies that spread themselves too thin, trying to go into many markets, but not doing any of it well. The companies that are able to focus on a few markets, do the necessary research and find good partners — they’re the ones that tend to be successful.

What are some of the mistakes that companies in the ICT sector make?

We see companies that under-invest in sales and marketing for their products. Canadian companies are good at research and development, but sometimes they don’t follow up and make enough investment into the sales and marketing for those products. That’s one of the mistakes —some companies simply don’t do enough work to promote their products.

Some companies also overlook the importance of having a local partner, they are able to peak the interest of a potential customer, but a good local partner can play a critical role in moving the discussions forward to a potential sale. In some cases, international customers also require someone locally that could support them when needed.

What should companies in this sector know about exporting that they don’t know?

I think the Trade Commissioner Service of Global Affairs Canada is a great resource that is underutilized. Trade Commissioners provide a wide range of services that can be very helpful to a company that is looking to get into a new market, from helping companies find local contacts to on-the-ground intelligence. We always recommend that companies contact the Trade Commissioner Service when exploring a new market.

How can EDC help companies in this sector?

We help in two ways. First, we help through our products and services so companies have access to working capital to, for example, deliver on a contract, or to help the company mitigate risk as they go into different markets by providing insurance on accounts receivable. The other way we help is in connecting companies to foreign buyers by leveraging EDC’s network of international customers in various sectors.