Fibre optic redundancy, more training needed to boost IT sector, company says

The Yukon can have a strong information technology sector if it reduces barriers that prevent the sector from growing, a local IT firm says.

The Yukon can have a strong information technology sector if it reduces barriers that prevent the sector from growing, a local IT firm says.

Orange Technology’s co-owners Martin Lawrie and Martin Lehner say the territory could diversify its economy with high tech.

In 2015, the IT sector contributed less than three per cent to the Yukon’s gross domestic product. What it needs to grow is a redundant fibre-optic line, Lawrie said.

“Redundant connection to the rest of the world would be very important for any opportunity to grow in that sector,” he said. “Bandwidth cost is an inhibitor as well for growth.”

During last fall’s election campaign, the Liberals promised to build a redundant fibre-optic cable, an initiative the Yukon Party announced in 2015. It would connect to a new Mackenzie Valley fibre line that’s scheduled to be completed this winter.

Redundancy would help prevent internet outages when construction crews accidentally sever the existing fibre line going down the Alaska Highway.

The Yukon also needs more programs and facilities to train people to work in IT, Lehner said.

“We need the opportunity to do training locally.”

But the pair say the IT sector has to make itself visible inside Yukon schools.

“We have to ensure it’s identified as a career path,” Lawrie said. “A lot of the other industries are there (in the schools).”

Lehner said Orange Technology has hired students straight out of high school with little training. They usually had an interest in the field and the students reached out to the company.

“There are a lot of kids that get out of high school and don’t know it’s an option,” Lehner said.

With better infrastructure and more training, the Yukon can become an attractive location for IT companies. In a day and age where web programmers can work from anywhere in the world, companies have to compete to attract employees.

“Our lifestyle is very unique, very attractive. That’s a huge selling point,” said Lawrie.

There is important work being done, Lawrie said, pointing to investments in YuKonstruct and (co)space, shared workplaces in downtown Whitehorse, as a good start to boost the industry.

After a wave of internet scams targeting Yukoners last November, Lehner also reiterated his long-standing push for the government to create a central repository where IT providers in the territory could share the types of cyberthreats the Yukon faces.

Data analysis would help business owners in the territory keep their networks safe, he said, but could also be a selling point for companies looking to move here.

“One of the things the government can say is ‘we got this information, we watch this stuff,’” Lehner said. “Other jurisdictions don’t have that — quite frankly it’s a model we could export.”

The Yukon could also make use of its climate to host data centres, Lehner said, but that requires a redundant fibre line to be viable.

The climate, the proximity to the U.S. border, and the accessibility via air or road makes Yukon an ideal location, he said.

“We don’t really get earthquakes, we don’t get hurricanes,” he said. “It’s cold, so your cooling costs are significantly reduced for a good portion of the year.”

New Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said he plans to meet with industry stakeholders to decide on a way forward.

“Everybody is working hour by hour to be briefed on the multitude of things in each department that they’re responsible for,” Pillai said.

But he said the Liberals will follow through on their promise to build the redundant fibre line.

“Our commitment to accelerating and to making sure we can put redundancy in place has not wavered,” he said. “It affects many areas within the Yukon economy, not just the IT sector. “

With files from Maura Forrest

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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