Successful Federations

Canadians are dependent on the success of both CANARIE and our NREN partners.

Posted by Jim Ghadbane, President and CEO, CANARIE

The individuals on a team create that team’s dynamic. Recognizing this, CANARIE is very selective when it comes to any new hire. Consequently, near the end of the interview process, members of the executive team interview the candidate. By the time they reach that point in the process, the candidate has usually convinced us they are a good skills match for the job. Yet it’s critically important to make sure they will be a good fit and will strengthen our team. Near the end of every one of those interviews, the candidate is asked if they have any questions for us. This step serves two purposes: first, it helps deal directly with any concerns the candidate may have about working at CANARIE – yes, they do have a choice!; and second, it provides us some insight into what is important enough to them that they would ask an executive.

At a recent such interview, I was asked something no one had ever asked me before: “As CEO of CANARIE, what are you most proud of?”

There are many things I could be proud of, so to single one out was a thought-provoking task! After a moment, I concluded that I was most proud of the work we do to build and strengthen the Canadian National Research and Education Network (NREN) through partnership with our provincial and territorial networks. Canada’s NREN is considered to be federated because it is created by linking together each of the provincial and territorial network partners using the CANARIE backbone.

After that particular interview, I began to ponder what differentiated a successful federation from a not-so-successful one. Over time and after talking with others, I came up with three things that one must embrace to have a successful federation. Luckily they all start with the letter “D”, easier to remember – and they must all be truly embraced. They are:

  1. Dependency: one can quickly see that without our NREN partners connecting the institutions within their regions and then using the CANARIE network to link them together and to the rest of the world, Canadians wouldn’t be able to participate on the world stage for research, education, and innovation. How Canada’s NREN is formed inherently creates a mutual dependency within it. As such, Canadians are dependent on the success of both CANARIE and our NREN partners.
  2. Democracy: which is not the same thing as voting…it’s democracy in the true sense of the word: every organization in the Canadian NREN needs to have its voice heard and its needs met in order to serve its community. It’s important to remember that each organization’s community should always have the final say! Canada’s NREN Governance Committee gives everyone an equal say in how the NREN evolves, and the committee supports advancement of the national system through a common strategic vision and joint projects.
  3. Diversity: Canada is a very big country! What works in one part of the country may not work in another part, for any number of reasons. Trying to make every organization in the NREN behave the same way doesn’t work! On the flip side, diversity has the benefit that innovation can happen in one part of the NREN which accelerates adoption of what works into another part, without necessarily using the same delivery mechanisms.

So why embrace the 3 Ds?

I’ll use dependency to further explain the benefit. When faced with a dependency, there are normally three courses of action that can be taken:

  1. Eliminate the dependency. This approach is often found in the private sector when a customer’s mission is not significant to the supplier. As a frequent example, the supplier announces to the customer that they are changing their market strategy and the customer is not as relevant to the supplier based on their new market strategy. After all, business is business! The customer may be forced to eliminate the dependency, but this usually comes with a short-term replacement cost to the customer.
  2. Accept the dependency. This usually looks like “it is what it is”; the parties need each other but don’t see any value beyond the status quo. An example would be software that has broad applicability, such as a word processor. Enhancements to the software don’t usually support any one particular business segment. This can mean that customers often need to work around limitations in the product, again incurring costs.
  3. Embrace the dependency. This is generally best achieved when organizations share a common mission, which is the case for the Canadian NREN – recall we are working to connect Canadians to each other and to the rest of the world. Embracing dependency means that all parties not only recognize that they need to deliver their own mission, but need to help strengthen all partners so that we can continually get better at delivering on the common mission. Speaking for CANARIE, we are stronger when our partners are stronger and the NREN is stronger as a result.

Similar cases can be made for the advantages of embracing democracy and diversity.

What’s happening within the Canadian NREN is both a pleasure to be a part of, and also remarkable to observe.

Embracing dependency, democracy, and diversity has allowed our NREN to appear to behave as a single unit with a common strategy and common approaches across the country. But we also capture the advantages of its diverse make-up to innovate faster. It’s something everyone involved in the Canadian NREN (member, advisor, Board member, employee…) should be proud of!

Canada’s NREN is only a small part of the Global Research and Education Network (GREN), so we must also embrace the 3Ds in our collaboration with our international partners. This approach strengthens the GREN that serves the global research and education community whose work is critical in addressing the common challenges facing humanity.

Perhaps this explains why the Canadian NREN and our successful federation became top of mind during that interview. And yes, we hired her!