Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 13, 2018 – Quebec City, QC

Focus area: Unleashing Innovation
Facilitated by Janie Béïque

Highlights of Discussions

Innovation needs to be viewed more broadly and cannot be applied equally to the entire industry. Innovation needs to be approached sector by sector, with different approaches depending on the sector. Business innovation occurs at all levels, not just with products. Therefore, a company can also introduce innovation that targets its processes and procedures to increase its productivity. Business innovation is not just about adopting technology; and it can take several years. Entrepreneurs therefore need to have access to resources and initiatives that adapt to their pace.

We need to find the right balance between protecting Canadians' privacy and using data to accelerate innovation. To do that, we need to look at the issue of data governance and open data. The government must be sure it has flexible legislation and regulations pertaining to data management and directives governing how they are applied. On that subject, some participants emphasized that the framework and legislation for private data was already adequate. Innovation and protecting privacy shouldn't stand in opposition, but work together to mobilize innovation through trust and effective data management.

In a context of full employment, an aging population and a shortage of skilled labour, especially in the field of information technology, companies are competing for talent such as computer scientists, developers, programmers and data scientists. This will require revising the curricula offered in schools by training the workforce of tomorrow on the basis of industry needs. We need to promote a digital culture in the education system. We also need to focus on professional development within companies and be sure to train senior management by making them aware of the issues and opportunities attending embracing digital within their company. Lastly, Quebec companies are fighting for talent with a lot of competition among companies and research institutions. We must not only attract pioneer companies, but build them and look for ways to retain talent in Canada. The government can help by having strategies for stimulating the growth of companies and providing capital and other incentives to those who are built here and doing business here.

Federal programs like the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program and Sustainable Development Technology Canada's Sustainable Development Technology Fund are appreciated by the participants. The IRAP program, for example, is simple and easy to use, although it should adapt to the evolution of digital technologies by increasing support for projects relating to software development, and by promoting the adoption of digital, not just applied research projects.

We have to push organizations that have good programs of collaboration between academic institutions and companies. We have to encourage collaboration, and networking among companies; and we need to create mentoring networks.

Key opportunities/factors/challenges

Commercializing innovation
The participants also pointed out that companies are innovating enough by investing in such things as research and development. Instead, the challenge lies in the carrying out innovation or marketing it.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Canada is seen as a global leader in AI. However, the success of AI very much depends on access to important data sources. If we can't provide the large data banks that AI needs, we run the risk of losing companies and investments to other markets and reducing innovation across the economy. Some participants applauded the already significant benefits of the AI-Powered Supply Chain Supercluster (SCALE.AI) which strengthens collaboration and dialogue among AI players in Quebec. However, one participant noted that Canada won't become a true leader in AI until it stops giving away its intellectual property to other countries. At present, AI isn't being monetized and wealth isn't being created in Canada. We need to deploy AI within domestic companies.
Intellectual property (IP)
IP is a driver of economic development, prosperity, and wealth creation. We live in a world where technological advancements are happening at an ever-increasing pace, where Canada needs to have effective measures for protecting and using IP in order to create maximum wealth. Job creation is no longer an indicator of economic growth.
Government Procurement
The government needs to further encourage Canadian companies to become government suppliers. Innovative Solutions Canada initiative helps encourage procurement from Canadian companies, however, few people are aware that it exists.
Digital skills
Digital skills, especially those related to cloud computing, AI and machine learning, are crucial to the future of work and the prosperity of our country. Young Canadians need access to digital learning before they pursue post-secondary education. Even the experts need training. There is a lack of support even right within the industry. What skills should employees have for moving forward in this digital shift process? The human factor is the deciding factor. Organizational culture needs to evolve completely. The government should have a strategy around talent.


Direction and data legislation
Canadian legislation is already good. We could simply consider a national guide that sets out the basic principles of digital and data, including ownership and use of private data.
Skills/skilled workforce
We have to find a way to attract and retain more foreign talent. Talent scarcity is the main issue facing ICT companies. We need to recognize the value they bring and further train them by advocating for a digital culture in education. We need a talent immigration facilitator; we need to simplify student immigration for internships; we need to remove barriers to entry for that talent. Turning university programs into programs of collaboration with companies is critical. We have to look at what companies need in terms of training.
Embracing digital
We need to encourage companies to make that transition to digital. Companies aren't necessarily reluctant, but they don't know where to start. We need to "de-risk" through government programs (like "my first robot") and thereby reduce the risk in terms of capital and time. Companies are often not aware of the state of things internally. We must not see innovation as necessary at the start, but rather establish a diagnosis beforehand. We have to look at where the growth problem is and then find the technology that addresses that problem.

Attendee List

  1. DimOnOff
  2. Réseau Trans-tech
  3. Québec International
  4. Commission de l'éthique en science et en technologie
  5. Alworx
  6. Institut Technologies de l'information et société (ITIS)
  7. Ingeno
  8. Petalmd
  9. Centre de recherche industrielle du Québec (CRIQ)
  10. City of Québec
  11. Fonds InnovExport
  12. Inno-Centre
  13. Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Québec
  14. Teraxion
  15. Commission de l'éthique en science et en technologie
  16. CEFRIO
  17. Groupe Optel
  18. Fonds de solidarité FTQ
  19. Coveo