Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: August 30, 2018 – Montreal, QC

Focus area: Unleashing Innovation
Facilitated by Janie Béïque

Highlights of Discussion

Digital and data-driven transformation remains a major challenge for businesses. Many are facing a growing labour shortage. Of all the provinces in Canada, Quebec has the highest vacancy rate. At the same time that companies are having to adopt new technologies, nearly 6,400 digital technology positions need to be filled in Quebec. The deluge of data that we're living in right now is generating more and more interest in data scientists, and companies are even competing for candidates before their studies are completed.

The majority of businesses, particularly SMEs, have not yet reached the digital maturity required to know their connected data needs. We need to put in place accompanying measures so that specialists/business analysts work with companies to make a diagnosis that is appropriate to their needs and help them manage the transition period.

In addition, the digital transition is a long process—a minimum of 4 to 5 years—which creates financial pressures for businesses that do not have the budget to invest heavily in digital. A number of tax measures are available, but few businesses use them because they do not know about them or how to obtain them.

When companies consider implementing a data science strategy, fear of data ownership becomes important. As soon as there is an announcement in the media of a security breach that compromises confidential information, businesses are scared, and this puts a brake on those who want to take action.

The Government of Canada can play a key role in disseminating success stories to inspire businesses to go digital. In Silicon Valley, this type of practice already exists and companies are using it as a model for their digital shifts.

If Canada wants to be a leader in innovation and digital, it must be able to lead by example by adopting new technologies, for example by using cloud services and by opting for an agile regulatory framework in which the protection of digital identity, data and individuals will be respected. Business models are rapidly changing, and regulatory frameworks are no longer adapted to new models that can offer open data, such as Airbnb or Uber.

Canada should innovate on its own investment and grant funds and relax the rules on university funding applications. We need to break down barriers between institutions and build bridges between colleges and universities. You can't innovate by staying in silos. "Institutional egos" have to be put aside.


Talent and Labour Shortage
It is essential to attract the talents of this world in order to promote knowledge transfer here at home. Talent is crucial. Immigration! Immigration of international talent to Canada should be facilitated. We have to think about the retention of foreign students. Today, a quarter remain after their studies. An international student who has studied in Canada could receive a Canadian passport at the same time as their degree. We are losing out on 26,000 students because they leave after completing their studies.
Digital Skills
Digital learning must be integrated from the primary level to educate young people at an early age and to train the future workforce. For example, Luxembourg has initiated an introduction to code, called CodeKlass, to stimulate young people's thinking about the importance of digital for their future. To support the need for training tailored to the specific needs of the industry workforce, the government could contribute more to the Workforce Skills Development and Recognition Fund.
Companies must ensure the security of their internal systems and operational structure. A lot of security breaches are due to a lack of skills and knowledge, not malfeasance. All workers in businesses, including those who do not occupy technological positions, must be trained in good practices. CEGEPs or the National Research Council could offer training courses. In addition, to enhance business security and the Canadian network, the introduction of an Energy Star-style cyber-security designation is suggested.
Cloud Computing
Over 50% of Canadian businesses have not yet transitioned to cloud computing. Businesses want real-time data, but they often don't know that they have to go to cloud before they can get it.


Health Data
The life sciences sector is both a large user of digital technologies and a huge data generator. The lack of access to data or the complexity of the process to obtain it impedes the use of big data for medical research. Given the reluctance of patients to provide their health data to the private sector, the government could prove the concept by creating an internal database and then expanding it with external data. Israel, which digitized its health data 15 years ago, is attracting companies and researchers from around the world who want to work with their huge patient database.
A coaching program inspired by the SME 2.0 program in partnership with the Government of Canada to support businesses in adopting digital technologies. More specifically, to help them make a diagnosis that is adapted to their needs and to guide them in developing an appropriate digital strategy.
Government Models
When developing a digital and data approach, it is important to have a coordinated approach. For example, to increase its 5% growth rate in innovation and IT, Israel has comprehensively revised its entire system of incentives for businesses on the basis of their stage of development. The U.K. government has introduced a Data Trust model that negotiates the use of data on behalf of the citizen.
Tax Credit
The tax credit is a good tool for research and development, but it is currently under-utilized. The challenge is to be innovative in the ways in which we encourage businesses to go digital. While start-ups are agile and take risks, established SMEs have difficulty innovating. The introduction of a tax credit to encourage established SMEs to consume start-up products would promote the development of new technologies and help businesses maintain their competitiveness levels. It is difficult for multidisciplinary companies to qualify for tax credits, other than for R&D, with outdated NAICS codes. A more representative approach could help them compete with web giants such as GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon).
There is also a need to defer takeovers of digital companies (digital agencies) by outside companies. How can we ensure that they stay here, that the decision-making centres do not leave Quebec and Canada? The government can set conditions for funding international companies (including R&D credits and multimedia credits) that are based in Canada, such as giving back to the community by reinvesting locally: by creating partnerships and selecting local suppliers.
Canada's Legislation and Regulations
As part of the reform of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada must remain a jurisdiction where the balance between the digital economy and individual rights is respected. Luxembourg offers a regulatory environment adapted to the latest technological developments that we could draw on. The Canadian government needs to communicate the regulatory framework to businesses and individuals. There are already private initiatives in place to self-regulate targeted advertising, such as AdChoices.
Digital Infrastructure
Government could allow municipalities to get infrastructure without going through the CRTC to make it like roads, water, etc. Infrastructure must be sustainable and powered by green energy. High-speed Internet access must be provided everywhere. There must be a Canadian infrastructure strategy. $12 billion was paid to the federal government for the purchase of spectrum rights. These funds could be reinvested in infrastructure.

Attendee List

  1. CargoM
  2. Transmedtech
  3. Montréal InVivo
  4. MedTeq
  5. Québec Chamber of Commerce
  7. Youth Employment Services (YES)
  8. Technocompétences — CSMO
  9. McGill University
  10. Techno Montréal
  11. Centre facilitant la recherche et l'innovation dans les organisations, à l'aide des technologies de l'information et de la communication (CEFRIO)
  12. LDJ Conseil
  13. Alliance Numérique
  14. Réseau QuébecInnove
  15. Université Concordia
  16. Computers for Success
  17. EY
  18. Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal (CRIM)
  19. École polytechnique de Montréal
  20. Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA)
  21. University of Montréal
  22. École de technologie supérieure
  23. Concordia University
  24. Montréal International
  25. Institut de valorisation des données (IVADO)
  26. Association des agences de communication créative
  27. Deep Mind — AI Research Lab
  28. HEC Montréal Summer School on Management of Creativity in an Innovation Society
  29. Fonds FTQ
  30. Calcul Québec