B.C.’s Potential Game-Changer: The Digital Technology Supercluster


Bill Tam

Among the five innovation superclusters designated by the Trudeau government in February, arguably the most closely-watched choice was which digital supercluster would prevail. Big data is revolutionizing how individuals and businesses communicate, do business and live their lives. The Digital Technology Supercluster will be located in British Columbia, where it seems innovation is in the air these days.

Canada’s prosperity on the world stage depends on establishing a sustainable national economic advantage. For the past decade, Canada has been amassing strengths in digital technology that will underwrite benefits to the country economically and socially for generations. 

The Digital Technology Supercluster is a collaborative effort of more than 350 organizations, all focused on seizing opportunities in Canada’s fast-growing tech sector. This is a bold endeavour, rooted in innovation and driven by an urgent need to facilitate digital transformation and competitiveness across all industries. By bringing together the experience and expertise of various industries and institutions, leveraging data and promoting the sharing of knowledge, the Digital Technology Supercluster will propel Canada’s position as a leader in forging the world’s digital economic future.

The Digital Technology Supercluster will support large-scale economic growth, generate jobs and create new opportunities for Indigenous communities. It will allow start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to scale globally, while expanding the productivity and competitiveness of Canada’s largest companies.

If the prize resource of the 20th century was oil, the prize resource of the 21st is data. More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire history of the human race. Moving forward, the global data inventory will quadruple by 2025 and worldwide revenues for big data and analytics are expected to exceed $200 billion in 2020. 

Many of the most promising developments in digital technology—such as virtual, mixed and augmented reality (VR/MR/AR), quantum computing, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT)—are expected to witness triple-digit market growth in the years ahead. 

Big data is revolutionizing how individuals and businesses communicate, do business and live their lives. In today’s data economy, digital transformation is vaulting some businesses to new heights. Those that do not seize the opportunity risk becoming irrelevant. The Digital Technology Supercluster sees the immense potential of digital technologies and has been designed to capitalize on these important trends. 

British Columbia is well-suited as the headquarters for the Digital Technology Supercluster. Home to a vibrant, diverse and successfully technology-enabled economy, B.C. has the fastest-growing technology sector in Canada. It leads the country in technology sector GDP growth and job creation, and hosts Canada’s number one start-up ecosystem, three of five Canadian billion-dollar start-ups—or “unicorns”—and two of the country’s top three universities in software development.

The Digital Technology Supercluster is focused on two distinct areas: ecosystem development and technology leadership. Advances in technology must be supported by a vibrant, inclusive and collaborative ecosystem. The Digital Technology Supercluster recognizes the need to enhance labour force skills. This includes participation by a broad range of people who reflect our diverse population. Initiatives that foster opportunities for Indigenous peoples will be integrated into supercluster activities. Other important areas of ecosystem development include supporting the growth of innovation services and increasing access to world markets for Canadian companies.

Technology leadership programs are collaborative projects that directly enhance the productivity, performance and competitiveness of member firms. Using Agile methodology, projects will take place in six-month sprints, supported by a rolling Expression of Interest (EOI) process. Above all, projects will be guided by industry needs, led by supercluster members and supported by some of the best tech expertise in the world.

With the support of several hundred private sector participants, 25 of B.C.’s post-secondary institutions, leading universities and research institutes, and funding commitments exceeding $500 million, the Digital Technology Supercluster has the momentum to be an economic game-changer. Founding members include large corporate players, small and mid-sized companies and a consortium of six post-secondary institutions—organizations who together can lead the development, adoption and success of new products and technologies.

The Digital Technology Supercluster’s open membership model enables any organization to join as an associate member. This removes any barriers preventing SMEs from joining and encourages the rapid scale-up of a community of interest around data-driven innovation. Membership provides organizations and their staff with the opportunity to explore and participate in collaborative development opportunities in a safe, inspiring place of innovation. 

The Digital Technology Supercluster will be the catalyst for transformational collaboration and the centre for innovation initiatives across Canada. It will build partnerships and linkages. It will pool resources and data. It will become a clearinghouse for traditional industries, academia, and non-profits to collaborate with the digital technology sector and encourage the rapid scale up of a community of interest around data-driven innovation. 

The Digital Technology Supercluster’s Phase 1 programs have been identified through consultation with industry. A data stack of data visualization, data analysis and data collection was applied to B.C.’s major industries: natural resources, precision health and industrial. A wide range of opportunities were explored, leading to the definition of three program areas with the most potential: Precision Health, Digital Twins and Data Commons.

The following examples demonstrate how the Digital Technology Supercluster will contribute to significant advancements across some of Canada’s leading industries:

• In Healthcare, a secure, anonymous Health and Genomic Platform will build the systems required to allow medical specialists to create custom, leading-edge cancer treatments that are personalized to the unique genetic makeup of each patient, building on Canada’s current leadership in this area.

• In the natural resources sector, an Earth Data Store will facilitate and improve data collection, sharing and visualization in the resource sector – enhancing how information about resource projects is shared between project proponents, Indigenous Peoples, governments and communities.

• In the industrial manufacturing sector, a Digital Learning Factory will help facilitate the development of virtual environments that enable design, rapid experimentation and testing of cost-saving approaches to address the most significant challenges in modern manufacturing.

These initiatives are among the estimated 100 projects that will be made possible by the Digital Technology Supercluster. Over the next 10 years, the supercluster is projecting over $1 billion in investments in collaborative projects, involving more than 1,000 organizations. 

Supported by a broad base of support across industries, guided by a solid plan and focused on an area of tremendous opportunity, the Digital Technology Supercluster is ready for take-off. For more information, visit digitalsupercluster.ca  


Bill Tam is co-chair of the Digital Technology Supercluster along with Greg Caws. A tech industry leader, Bill’s experience spans start-up CEO, enterprise sales executive, technology developer, venture capital investor and board chair.