Canadian academic institutes are at the forefront of technological advancement — and Canadian businesses need to keep up

Government and academic institutions across Canada have stepped up their investments and activities related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the past few years. These activities are crucial if Canada is going to remain competitive with other countries and regions that are making similar moves, and to position Canada as a hub of AI thought leadership and development. Now it’s time for Canadian businesses to show a similar level of commitment.

In early 2017, the Canadian federal government announced a $125 million investment to aid in the development of AI research institutes across Canada. Coined the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the funding was distributed to Toronto (Vector Institute), Montreal (Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms) and Edmonton (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute). Additional financing included contributions from both private and public sectors with the ambitious goal of making Canada the global leader in AI.

Though Canada has witnessed progressive strides in the development of AI on an academic level, we’ve yet to witness Canadian businesses fully embrace AI technologies. According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey & Company, Canadian executives are “highly enthusiastic about the future of AI in their industry, with 87 percent planning to increase investment in the next three years.” However, the same report shows a gap between enthusiasm and action, with only 34 percent of executives saying they “have transformed their corporate strategies to position themselves appropriately” for AI investment and development in their businesses.

While it is promising to hear that organizations are budgeting for AI, there is an urgency to prioritize AI strategy in order to keep a competitive edge. Canada remains a conservative market, and as such drastic change doesn’t happen overnight. However, if businesses approached AI in a similar manner as our leading institutions, perhaps we’d witness more innovative advancements and open-minded discussions across industries.

Education could prove to be an important catalyst to spark further AI investment. Instead of remaining cautious of endeavors that will transform business, industry leaders should ensure their organizations are equipped with the proper training, accessible education, and resources to welcome change.

Ignoring AI in the age of digital transformation could have negative implications on Canada’s economy and social structure.

It’s good news that there are some businesses willing to embed AI in their strategies, as evidenced by the aforementioned 34 percent of businesses in the McKinsey study. At least some organizations are making decisions and moving out of their AI comfort zones; they’re piloting technologies, building out their own cognitive labs and hiring employees with expertise in specific areas such as analytics and cognitive science, all to leverage AI for real business and organizational impact.

These companies are clearly paying attention to the mounting evidence about the benefits of executing on digital investments. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business School,  organizations that have embraced digital transformation have realized a significant increase in gross margins, earnings, and net income — far surpassing those resistant to change. There are additional McKinsey studies showing that digital disruptors, companies that invest in a range of newer technologies such as AI, are quickly becoming more competitive and profitable in industries such as insurance. 

How can organizations engage with technology in an impactful way?

Ignoring AI in the age of digital transformation could have negative implications on Canada’s economy and social structure. Business leaders must take appropriate measures to ensure they are ready to move forward with this technology.

To begin, they can invest in technologies that are available for immediate consumption and that can deliver benefits on a single or limited use case (which includes, for example, the autonomic and cognitive AI capabilities in 1Desk and Amelia). Projects like these do not need to be enterprise-wide or completely transformative; they can simply serve as a starting point to greater understand how AI can impact business. Once benefits from AI are realized, and an organization deals with managing employee impact and ROI expectations accordingly, plans can be made for even broader AI deployments. Several presenters at this year’s Digital Workforce Summit, including those that have deployed Amelia within their organizations, advised companies not to get stuck in “analysis paralysis” when it comes to considering an AI investment — just getting started is a critical step.

Businesses that fail to take advantage of AI’s great potential are risking revenue loss and competitive disruption from those companies that recognize what AI can do for them. AI is changing the world as we know it, and hopefully the efforts from the Canadian government and academic institutions will spark business leaders’ imaginations for new AI use cases throughout the country.

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