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.
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.
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.
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!