Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 10, 2018 – Montreal, QC

Focus area: Unleashing Innovation
Facilitated by Janie Béïque

Highlights of Discussion

The acquisition and development of information technology skills are major challenges for Canadian businesses. Not only do we need to use foreign talent, we also need to develop local talent. The answer to this challenge lies in education: training workers in business by providing them with the tools they need to grow throughout their careers and reviewing education programs by tailoring them to market realities and industry needs.

The government should do a better job of raising awareness and promoting its programs. Better coaching for businesses is also desirable. The manufacturing sector must be encouraged to transition toward digital. There are audits that show where a business is and what it needs to do in order to make that transition. The government should offer a service and promote it; this would allow businesses to know where they stands vis-à-vis the competition and take action to remain competitive. The government could also create a portal to put forward specialists who can implement this transition with managers. The government could do more to encourage businesses to adopt digital, since most businesses are not fully aware of the benefits of embracing digital adoption and creating value from business data. It is important to look at SMEs because they have the necessary flexibility to transform faster. The government needs to help businesses better understand their political environment (rules, obligations).

One of the participants also mentioned the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) Innovators in Residence program to support health innovation as an example of good practices. To provide scholarships to entrepreneurs and students to go into hospitals to further their research and learn how to become better motivators of technology within a business.

Canada should provide access to the data, but with limitations. For example, businesses should be required to go through some kind of application programming interface (API). The government should provide the framework for data (consent management, data analysis and use), especially in the health field (for medical research), and do so quickly. Public policies need to be put in place for access to data.

Access to funding is also a challenge for businesses. Entrepreneurs in the field of technology find it difficult to obtain pre-commercial funding. Although it is easier to raise capital at an advanced stage of development, some are still struggling to raise the capital they need in order to grow.

We will also need to foster collaboration and dialogue among the various socio-economic stakeholders, including the government, educational institutions and businesses. Have greater synergy between large businesses and SMEs, by sharing knowledge. Canada could promote success stories and perhaps even set conditions on the grant. The goal is for research to serve industries, and vice versa, in order to generate Canadian innovation and competitiveness. For example, Columbia University offers a program in which businesses pay for the degree and students work at the same time. At the end of their studies, graduates automatically obtain employment.

Participants also questioned measures to attract foreign investment that allow global giants, such as Amazon, to make capital gains abroad while preventing Canadian technology businesses, for the vast majority SMEs, from hiring the talent they need to ensure their competitiveness and growth. In short, we need to pay attention to the foreign companies that set up here and hire our talent in a context of labour shortages. We should not be using tax credits to attract these businesses.

Key Opportunities/Factors/Challenges

Digital Adoption
Encourage the manufacturing sector to transition toward digital. There are audits that show where a business is and what it needs to do in order to make that transition. The government should offer a service and promote it; this would allow businesses to know where they stand vis-à-vis the competition and take action to remain competitive. The government could also create a portal to put forward specialists who can implement this transition with managers. The government could do more to encourage businesses to adopt digital, since most businesses are not fully aware of the benefits of such a transition.
Ownership, Governance and Access to Data
Participants stressed the importance of making data accessible and easily usable. In the health sector, researchers and doctors need access to an anonymized database in order to stimulate medical research. In this sense, the government could play a key role in access to data.
Digital Skills
Access to talent is paramount. We therefore need to train more local talent, either by ongoing training in business or by reviewing the education system in order to properly train the workforce of tomorrow. Some have mentioned that the education system is not designed to train future entrepreneurs. The United Kingdom's UK Digital Strategy was cited as an example of offering free basic digital training for adults who have not mastered the digital skills they need. The challenge of access to talent is inevitable, but we have two solutions to reduce negative impacts. First, the government should offer guides that could occasionally support entrepreneurs. Second, the government could create an artificial intelligence interface that would help businesses analyze and use data. The government's role would be to connect people or sectors that did not communicate previously, through events and research grants to encourage collaboration. Collaboration would counteract the lack of training and competence.
Procurement Policies
Governments need to review their procurement policies and encourage more Canadian businesses to become government suppliers. The example of Ontario and its procurement policy for start-ups was cited as an example of good practices. Innovative Solutions Canada's initiative was mentioned.
Infrastructure/Digital Access
All Canadians must have access to high-speed Internet to take full advantage of the benefits of a digital economy.
Canada's Laws and Regulations for Protection of Privacy
Participants noted that the laws in place are good, but that there is a need to better inform businesses of their existence and disseminate the success stories of businesses that have benefitted from them.

Attendee List

  1. Alta Precision
  2. Fondation Émergence
  3. GSoft
  4. Yaletown Partners
  5. Sun Life Financial
  6. AlayaCare
  7. Upstarted
  8. Prompt
  9. Aimia
  10. Fonds de solidarité FTQ