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Sep 25, 2023

Why Not Embrace Productivity, Innovation and AI Right Now?

by Hugues Foltz Executive vice-president

Digital transformation, Artificial intelligence

Last February 2023, the World AI Cannes Festival (WAIF) took place in France, bringing together researchers and artificial intelligence firms from around the globe in an innovation-rich event.

Back there, the Canadian delegation was an incredible success and our companies stood out due to their avant-garde ideas, ambitious goals, and focus on taking initiative. Such news is heartwarming for an entrepreneur like me, who is delighted to see that our talent is recognized to its fair value.

Unfortunately, our global recognition and well-acclaimed skills simply do not match with our everyday operations and the execution of this expertise within our businesses. Canada’s productivity growth rate has always been low compared to international standards and other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. This gap can mainly be explained by Canadian company’s lack of investment in research and development, as well as in digital technologies.

The situation in Quebec regarding our manufacturing industries is not better. We have been falling behind the rest of Canada for a while now, and it seems like we are not doing much to address this technological backwardness.

Why is that so?

I won't go into a detailed analysis of the various operating sectors in Canada and Quebec to list all the challenges that hinder our efficiency. I understand that numerous factors can influence such a result and that the current geopolitical circumstances don't help.

That being said, I can’t either surrender and claim that there are no other options than to accept our fate. I think our lack of productivity is primarily the result of inefficient resource utilization, but above all, it is due to a lack of interest in innovation that has us dragging our feet.

Yes, again with innovation! I didn’t think I would have to say it again: numerous other major players in the world of technology and I have been repeating this advice for years. We need to prioritize innovation now more than ever. It was urgent 10 years ago but in 2023? It's an obligation.

Many Quebec companies seem to be refractory to changes. It's an insidious and deeply rooted societal mentality that I've been trying to break down for a long time. In our current precarious economic situation, we must embrace new technologies to make progress.

Of course, optimizing any process can be a daunting investment of time, energy and money, but the good news is you don't have to do it alone.

There are many types of assistance available, even for specific industries. There generally are subsidy programs that provide substantial contributions, or specialized companies that can guide you through your digital transformation. Plus, you don’t need to throw yourself head over toe into a massive project that could take a decade to complete, or in a tedious research program. Sometimes, achieving a little «quick win» can make a significant impact and generate immediate benefits with minimal effort.

If you're looking for funding to train your workforce or to launch an AI project, there are organizations like Scale AI, an investment and innovation supercluster focused on accelerating and commercializing AI for supply chains, that are ready to invest in your company.

If you're feeling lost and don't know where to begin, don't worry. Quebec is blessed with renowned organizations, AI specialists, research centers and competent companies that can assist you throughout the entire process, from developing your initial concept to refining and implementing your final product.

It is time to stop making excuses for inaction. I understand that my words may come across as a little harsh to you, but it is because I know of the numerous ways in which your business’s performance, efficiency and value can be improved, regardless of its size or industry. Sadly, these opportunities are still overlooked.

With the challenges brought by the ongoing labour shortage and the turmoil of a pandemic just beginning to subside, I find it hard to understand why Quebec is so slow to ride the innovation wave. Our province is a breeding ground for innovation, yet our own companies don't seem to be taking advantage of it.

It's time to live up to our global reputation, which far precedes us!