A crucial issue: Mobilizing the Montreal ecosystem to make artificial intelligence (AI) a cornerstone for Quebec’s economic development.

Last January, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal held the Strategic Forum on Artificial Intelligence where the main topic was how to direct businesses towards university, financial, industrial and legal resources that can help them with the inevitable transformations required in order to integrate AI into their practices and processes.

I sat down with some of the companies that took part in this forum to get a better understanding of the issues they have faced and how they prepared for AI transformations.

I highlighted several significant points, and in light of these discussions, I would like to suggest the most relevant training workshops and conferences for your corporate profile at the C2 Montréal AI Forum.

1. Understanding AI

When she contemplated using AI in the automatic contract and proposal generation tools (commercial, labour law, employment) that she and her team develop, Katherine Labbe, Analyst/Developer at Edilex Inc, had to deal with these issues. The logic behind the previous tools, built over the past 25 years of the company’s existence, rests on a set of rules defined by lawyers and assembled using a runtime engine created and maintained by developers. None of the previous developers and lawyers had AI knowledge and all were very busy with the company’s current operations. Edilex Inc, like many small and medium enterprises, could not rely entirely on its internal resources to integrate AI into its software tools.

Understanding AI, how it can impact a company’s operations and how to implement it were the first challenges facing Katherine Labbe and her team. In their case, they gathered information from web readings and participated in forums and conferences on the topic.

Suggested workshops and conferences

If you want to make the most of the Montreal ecosystem and you are an executive or manager with a business profile, participate in the Big Data and AI training day organized by François Bellavance and François Labrie. It will demystify big data and AI and show how you can integrate them into your business models. For those participating in C2 Montréal, the “AI Road-Mapping” workshop presented by Richard Zuroff on May 24th is worth the trip.

If, on the other hand, you are an executive or manager with a technical profile, participating in the thematic workshops and summer/winter schools presented by IVADO or the AI4Good lab, an OSMO foundation initiative in association with the MILA and RLLAB, will enable you to obtain the theoretical bases and practices that will help you understand the technological field and solutions proposed by your employees or third-party companies.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

Similarly, the “AI-First Design” workshop presented by Microsoft on May 23rd and the “Flash talk on AI challenges” capsule presented by Claude Guay, Stephen Piron and Éric Nguyen on May 24th will be most instructive.

In the first minutes of the interview, Katherine Labbe shared that, after all that she had learned, she understood the capital importance of data in these transformations that she had to implement to integrate AI at Edilex Inc.

2. Why is data the heart and soul of your business?

The interview with Antoine Proteau, Data Science Manager, confirmed to what extent APN Inc had succeeded in making data its nerve centre and rally its employee to the cause.

APN Inc is a manufacturing company that designs and manufactures custom parts for a variety of fields such as machinery, electronics, aeronautics, aerospace, etc. It turned to AI to continue respecting production deadlines, industrial standards, clients’ requirements, quality standards and traceability requirements, despite the ever-growing complexity of the parts it must deliver and the constant pressure from the market to lower prices.

Everything began during a student internship with the objective of connecting to the different manufacturing equipment to monitor the equipment and ensure all was functioning properly. The software’s ability to interact with the different equipment paved the way towards implementing a bridge software that would allow the various equipment to automatically transmit manufacturing data to the management software used by the company. Employees previously assigned to these tasks were re-assigned to duties with added value.

In the same vein, and yielding similar results, links were established between all the software (production, management, finance, etc.) used by APN Inc to enable the automatic circulation of data. Consequently, the different software silos were broken down and a new software was created in which correlations between the increasingly richer data were established.

Another software was created to allow the entry of data that could only be obtained from measures performed by the employees, and sensors were integrated throughout so that the data generated could be analyzed and studied to better understand the impact of the physical interactions and vibrations on the production lines.

One of the primary advantages that came with this set of generated data, before we can even mention AI, is that by applying analytical algorithms, APN Inc was able to guide its employees in carrying out their tasks (e.g. specify how often tools should be changed), and create rules to monitor the production lines (e.g. sound alarms when incorrect data are generated), etc.

APN Inc turned to AI for more complex problems that couldn’t be resolved with analytical algorithms. Like many SMEs, for a number of reasons (scarcity of labour, justification for full-time employment, etc.), it could not recruit AI specialists to solve these problems. So, its own data came to the rescue.

In fact, university students and teachers specialized in AI (accessible from laboratories, AI research centres and institutes – MILA, RLLAB, IVADO, etc.) are generally looking for data or problems on which to apply the algorithms they create. By providing these data and problems, APN Inc was able to collaborate with universities on funded projects enabling the transfer of the universities’ technologies toward the industry (e.g. FRQNT, NSERC, MITACS, etc.) to create AI solutions currently used by the company.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

Suggested workshops and conferences

If this kind of approach interests you and you’re participating in C2 Montréal, your university research could begin May 23rd with the “AI Hot Spots Around the World” panel moderated by Mark Maclean with fellow panel speakers Jihoon Jeong, Isabelle Ryl, Nathan Benaich and Daniel Singer.

In short, data is the heart and soul of your business because it allows you to better understand it, help your employees with their duties and especially, attract universities or third-party companies (Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton – AI and Advanced Analytics, Element AI, etc.) so they can help you solve your AI problems.

Now, getting your team to share this vision might be a challenge, because not everyone will see the value, and in many cases, you might have to change their habits.

If you’re participating in C2 Montréal, you could draw inspiration from Carolina Bessega, Shelby Austin, Foteini Agrafioti and Andy Mauro in the “Getting Executive Buy-In” panel, which will be hosted by Sylvain Carle on May 24th.

When I asked Antoine Proteau what advice he would give to companies wanting to go digital so that their data can become their heart and soul, he replied unequivocally, “create an ecosystem for yourself that guides you towards success.”

3. How to create an ecosystem that will guide you to success

One of the resounding successes of creating an AI ecosystem in the Montréal region is, without a doubt, the SCALE.AI supercluster (an industry-led consortium led including more than 78 Canadian businesses that will invest $700 million, and the Canadian government will invest close to $300 million through the Innovation superclusters initiative; for a total of $1 billion). This is a consortium of businesses, co-directed by the OPTEL group that strives to integrate AI into supply chain management to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.

Steve Gélinas, Strategy and Innovation Director, explained that over the past three decades, the OPTEL group has been creating traceability systems intended to give the businesses he serves the means to follow-up on the distribution of products and supply chains.

The OPTEL group started to create its own ecosystem by sharing the risks with its clients in joint pilot projects. By combining its technologies and expertise with its clients’ knowledge of the field, the company was able to create showcase projects that have contributed to its position as a leader today.

The solutions developed in this context, by relying on AI or data analytics, are often decision-making tools to implement processes that can solve the most critical of its clients’ problems. Also, these solutions ensure the longevity of the businesses, because they decrease the complexity levels to democratize the tasks that had initially been performed by experts, thanks to experience acquired over the years.

Here, Steve Gélinas insists that it’s not a matter of replacing workers with AI but of reducing the complexity of their tasks by creating an organizational intelligence that can easily be transmitted from one employee to the next.

Suggested workshops and conferences

If this last point appeals to you and you will be attending the C2 Montréal conference on May 25th, you might want to listen to the “AI and the Future of Work” panel hosted by Holly Ransom, where the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Jean-François Gagné and Sean Mullin will exchange their points of view.

In closing, over the last few years, the OPTEL group has been integrating the Internet of Things and blockchain into the decision-making tools it’s creating to eliminate the issue of human errors in data. Should these last points pique your curiosity, the “AI in Blockchain” workshop presented by Vincent Gauthier of Catallaxy on May 25th at C2 Montréal will be worth the time.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

The current growing complexity of technologies and business fields incites more and more businesses to collaborate. Steve Gélinas explained that SCALE.AI originated from that fact that all the companies in the supercluster wanted to use AI; by grouping together, they found that several problems corresponded to a singular situation. And so came the idea to create the cluster by merging the grey matter of procedures with the technological grey matter into a theme, along with human and financial resources. After consulting with various members, this theme turned out to be managing the supply chain (inventories, sales, etc.).

We believe that other combinations of companies could generate different themes. Labatt and Molson for example could, in a hypothetical combination, decide to apply AI to the biological reactions of fermentation. Of course, they would each invest in the project (e.g. companies involved in SCALE.AI more than doubled the initially planned investment for the strategic aspect of the work planned), but their initiative could be supported by government aid programs (e.g. CIIP, IRAP and pre-competitive research), bank programs (e.g. RBC – IT, Media & Life Sciences) and private programs.

Concertation tables per activity sector, regional circles of individuals carrying out the same type of position are examples of events that could give birth to the future combinations that will help increase the integration of AI in our businesses in order to contribute to the prosperity of our economy.

In this sense, you might find it inspiring to listen to Stephen Spittle, Jonathan Kanevsky and Steve Mutabazi at the C2 Montréal conference on May 25th on the “AI for Good” panel hosted by Adrienne LaFrance.

If you need guidance…

At the forefront of blockchain and AI and advanced analytics, in addition to having the most specialized team of experts in Quebec in innovation and technological development financing for the IT, AI and aeronautical sectors, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton knows how to guide you in your businesses’ AI transformations.

Experts will be attending the C2 Montréal to meet and discuss with you: Sebastian Alberione, Alexandre Nguyen, Éric Nguyen, Vincent Gauthier and Jean-François Djoufak.

Enjoy the conference!

23 May 2018  |  Written by :

Jean-François Djoufak, manager, taxation, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton

See the profile

Next article

Culture is a strong asset when used as a social and economic development tool. This inspiring topic has been widely documented. The many papers resulting from cultural policies or Agenda 21 for culture are particularly very explicit in this regard.

Nevertheless, our long practice as consultants lead us to broaden this thought process and present you with another perspective on territory attractiveness in relation to culture, leisure and sports.

We propose five measures for you to consider and define what actions to take to enhance your territory’s attractiveness.

These points rely on three findings:

  1. Today’s citizens are many, complex, ever-changing and constantly moving: demographic changes, fragmented lifestyles, new cultural communities, etc.
  2. Territory attractiveness is a team sport! No sector (sport, culture, urban planning, economic development, etc.), investment strategy, or asset (land, transportation infrastructures, etc.) can boast being able to increase a territory’s attractiveness all on its own.
  3. Municipal organizations, through their regulatory framework, are generally rather rigid organizations. What’s more, several factors lead them to develop in isolation, even when collaboration is implicitly encouraged.

With these premises in mind, we present, for your consideration, five measures to make your territory more attractive and retain your citizens and businesses.

These five measures are as follows:

1. Understanding the present and outlining the future

Today more than ever, our lifestyles are constantly changing: the profile, composition and lifestyle of our populations are in ferment. At the same time, never has there been as much information and so many tools available for obtaining a fair, real-time understanding of our populations’ needs, satisfactions and expectations. Municipal managers must keep a veritable scoreboard to properly monitor, or even get more ahead of, the parade!

2. Acting together

Having a wealth of information, regardless of how relevant, does not always guarantee success. There is a strong risk of getting overwhelmed and the challenge of translating this information into action is vital. There are three key factors to consider: Have a clear vision and positioning that are shared with the parties involved, have a well-scripted scenario (strategic planning) and, lastly, know how to integrate innovation into the processes and strategies.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

3. Mobilizing all players

The key to successful territorial attractiveness strategies rests on the engagement of the parties involved (organizations, institutions, citizens, businesses, etc.) and their being in line with the vision. There are many interesting ways to increase engagement in the municipal arena. We’ve noted the growing desire to implement these new approaches. Nevertheless, we will have to make sure that there’s substance behind the glossy packaging with regard to these new citizen approaches. Furthermore, a fair amount of energy will be needed to engage the silent majorities (citizens or businesses).

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

4. Reinventing public spaces

One of the most important measures concerns equipment and infrastructures, because they are at the heart of our communities’ vitality. We believe there is a need to reinvent how we plan and design public, or even private, spaces and infrastructures. Given the significant amounts invested in this regard, we must ensure that added value is created for each investment. The vitality and dynamism of each community will strongly depend on how decision-makers interpret this measure. A large number of successes, but also failures, will have to be studied so that we can find the best.

5. Making the territory come alive

In our practice, we find that, historically, municipal managers (in leisure and culture) have had an approach that is limited to managing infrastructures (arenas, libraries, sports fields, etc.) and programs (day camps, cultural activities, etc.). Our observations lead us to design a new approach, one where they become true “territory facilitators” rather than equipment and program managers, and change our way of doing things. This shift is happening here and there, but it’s still only in the beginning phase.

In conclusion, we invite municipal players to ask themselves: “Are we well positioned for each of these measures?” If so, there is a good chance that your territory will come out on top in terms of attractiveness and retaining your various clients. However, if the answer is no, in order to move in the right direction, you will have to implement specific actions for each of these measures.

This article appeared in Le Sablier, published by the Association des directeurs généraux des municipalités du Québec.

Next article

Annik Doiron
Senior Manager | LL.B., M. Fisc. | Tax

Did you know that an individual inheriting a building could have to pay GST and QST upon receiving the inherited property?

In fact, the transmission of estate property to heirs constitutes a sale and as a result, can be subject to the Goods and Services Sales Tax (GST) and the Québec Sales Tax (QST). Therefore, when transmitting a commercial building, the estate (i.e. the seller) will have to collect and remit GST and QST.

There are exceptions

There are however situations where the estate does not have to collect sales tax. For example, when the heir (or acquirer) is registered for GST and QST, the estate is not required to collect taxes that are otherwise applicable.

Before transmitting estate property, make sure you properly understand your obligations and comply with commodity tax rules.

The Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton’s tax advisors can guide you in this type of tax planning. Contact our professionals for assistance with this process.

15 May 2018  |  Written by :

Annik Doiron is a canadian tax expert at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. Contact her today!

See the profile

Next article

Nancy Doucet
Manager | CRHA | Management consulting

The likely enactment of Bill C-45 on the legalization of cannabis will definitely impact human resource management.

There are numerous concerns:

  • Will productivity and absenteeism be impacted?
  • How can the legal framework be respected?
  • What recourses will be available to measure consumption?

These are important matters to consider and they confirm that Canadian businesses will need to adapt.

Managers’ concerns

A survey by the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés reveals that some three-quarters of its members are concerned by the legalization of cannabis. Close to 40% of them also believe that drug use in the workplace is already a problem.

Managers need to start looking at how they will manage the impact of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis. They will need to strike a balance between the right to privacy and the obligation to provide a safe work environment for all. They need to manage this challenge proactively and be prepared when the time comes.

Screening, personal rights and disciplinary measures

When it comes to health and accident prevention, all employers have a legal obligation to ensure the health, safety, physical and psychological well-being of their employees.
They have a management right that allows them to implement a policy prohibiting the possession or consumption of drugs and/or alcohol in the workplace.

In order to justify the imposition of sanctions, they need to have a clear, unequivocal policy that employees are aware of and that will be strictly applied.

Consumption and addiction

The courts have recognized that drug addiction is a disabling dependency. Accordingly, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an employer is obliged to accommodate an employee with an addiction, provided it does not result in undue hardship.

What does this mean? An employer cannot dismiss an employee with an addiction, i.e., an employee who is handicapped by an addiction to drugs or alcohol on the sole grounds that the employee is not able to perform the work effectively.

When is a policy required?

There are many factors supporting the importance of instituting a policy on the use of any substance that could impair a person’s faculties. For example, it could be a “zero tolerance” policy, with severe penalties, including dismissal, for anyone who breaks the rules.

How the new policy is implemented internally will be the key to its success. All of the employees must be aware of the new policy. It is recommended that a number of employees be an integral part of the process to ensure that the information is disseminated more quickly.

Talk to one of our experts to find out more about your rights and obligations and set a clear internal policy on drug and alcohol consumption.

14 May 2018  |  Written by :

Nancy Doucet is expert in management consulting at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. Contact her today!

See the profile