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Microsoft to double the size of its Montreal AI lab

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Montreal
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Microsoft has announced it will double the size of its Montreal research lab over the next two years.

Once the work is complete, 75 skilled engineers will work at the facility under the leadership of new director Geoffrey Gordon, a renowned AI expert.

Worldwide AI hub

While at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discussed the company’s investments in Canada with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In a news post, Microsoft acknowledged Montreal is becoming a “worldwide hub” for developments in AI and machine learning.

Microsoft is following several other major tech companies in stepping up its presence in the Montreal AI scene. Companies including Facebook and Samsung have recently opened new facilities in the city as it becomes one of the top global locations to source AI talent.

Microsoft said its expanded research lab will develop foundational AI systems that progress the fundamentals of the technology. This work will then help to build new Microsoft products for mainstream consumer and commercial use. Gordon’s background in both foundational and applied AI will enable the lab to work on a broad range of technologies for incorporation into Microsoft services.

“We want to be doing the research that will be infusing AI into Microsoft products today and tomorrow, and Geoff’s research really spans that,” said Jennifer Chayes, a Microsoft Research managing director and technical fellow.

AI that plans

One area the lab will focus on is the development of AI with long-term planning. AI currently struggles to combine actions into a logical plan for future execution. Although modern AI is adept at certain tasks, such as computer vision and voice recognition, it’s less capable of combining inputs, reasoning and then chaining different outcomes in response.

Microsoft’s already been working on developing new ways for AI to handle complex tasks. The additional resources available at the larger lab should enable new breakthroughs to be made in the field. This will help create smarter AI agents and information processors that have similar thought processes to humans.

With Microsoft as the latest company to invest in Montreal, Canada’s AI credentials are growing yet stronger. The company was welcomed by Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development.

“I am pleased that our government’s investment and skills continues to position Canada as a world-leading destination for AI companies and impressive researchers like Geoff Gordon,” he said.

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Investment

Connection Silicon Valley bridges Canadian business and world-class innovation

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Joanne Fedeyko, CEO of Connection Silicon Valley
Joanne Fedeyko, CEO of Connection Silicon Valley
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Joanne Fedeyko, CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, is serious about putting Canada on the map when it comes to innovation.

“I’m incredibly passionate about helping Canadian companies be successful,” she told DX Journal in an interview. “Their success equals success in Canada. Ultimately, what I want to see is Canada on the global innovation stage as a major player.”

For Fedeyko, a native of Northern Alberta, that means creating a bridge between Canadian business and the vibrant culture and approach of Silicon Valley. Through her work with Connection Silicon Valley, she helps Canadian startups, scaleups and corporate clients connect with all the exciting opportunities happening in one of the world’s greatest innovation hubs.

Connecting to the Valley

All of Connection Silicon Valley’s work is to encourage Canadian entrepreneurs and investors to branch out in their thinking a little more and gain a global perspective on their innovative projects and practices.

“I connect startups and corporates into Silicon Valley’s rich tech and innovation ecosystem to help them build and scale their business,” Fedeyko said. “The core of the work that I do is very custom and curated.”

Fedeyko dissects what companies might need, problems they might solve, or who they might need to connect with. “It’s all about custom connections.”

For startups, the biggest thing is funding and investors — but networking with other CEOs and founders can be a huge benefit. Speaking to the right Silicon Valley veteran can help founders determine things like pricing for their product, or even how to avoid a few pitfalls other CEOs have encountered in their previous experiences.

For corporate clients, Fedeyko organizes trips where Canadian companies speak with investors, startups and thought leaders. Through these two-day trips, Canadian companies can learn best where businesses are investing their resources, and get a sense of how to future proof their brand in light of developing technologies.

“When people come down to the Valley, light bulbs go off every single time,” she said.  “It’s eye-opening to see the ecosystem, the pace, the energy, the urgency, the plethora of technologies, and the collaborative nature. People have to see it, not just read about it, in order to grab some of the DNA that exists in the Valley.”

HQ2 helps put Canada on the map

Attitudes and perceptions of innovation in the Great White North are changing, both within and outside Canada.

With Toronto making the shortlist for Amazon’s HQ2, there is a realization that the world is increasingly looking closer at Canada’s immigration policy, its stellar post-secondary institutions and its AI expertise.

Fedeyko says there’s been a subtle shift in how Canadian businesses approach Silicon Valley innovation, but that Amazon’s interest in Canada has been the biggest moment of realization she’s seen so far.

“I think Amazon is one of the best things that could have happened to make Canada wake up.”

The attention and competitive potential of Amazon has shifted the territory for Canadian businesses on the world stage. As the world’s attention turns towards Canadian entrepreneurs and founders, Canadian companies are looking to connect with the excitement of innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, and American founders are looking to get better acquainted with the vibrant world of Canadian tech businesses. That’s where Connection Silicon Valley comes in.

Not a lot of people are doing this kind of work specifically for Canadian companies. For Fedeyko, it’s a question of passion. “I’m really doing it because I love my country and I want everyone to have the same sort of opportunities to connect with Silicon Valley like I do every day.”

Connect with Connection Silicon Valley in Toronto

Part of the Valley experience that Connection Silicon Valley is bringing to Canadians comes in the form of innovation immersion sessions. On April 24, Connection Silicon Valley is hosting a dinner for director-level business leaders to share an open dialogue about how disruption is changing the shape of business, and what’s holding companies back from embracing transformative change. Get your ticket here.

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Culture

Three big examples of DX culture shift

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workplace
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Digital transformation is not just about technology and big ideas. For digital transformation to be undertaken smoothly, a cultural change, involving all employees, need to take place.

Most headline messages about digital transformation discuss the necessity of switching from legacy systems; avoiding siloed data; and focusing on developing the digital understanding of C-suite executives.  What is often missing from the discussion is the need to develop a new culture. This is a culture of innovation, understanding and shared values in order to innovate product and service development.

Changing mindsets

Analysis by MIT Sloan and Deloitte into business-focused digital successes and failures concluded:

“The history of technological ad­vance in business is littered with examples of companies focusing on technologies without investing in organizational capabilities that ensure their impact. In many companies, (failures are) classic examples of expectations falling short because organizations didn’t change mindsets and processes or build cultures that fostered change.”

The survey also found, as Sloan Review summarizes, that the ability to digitally reimagine the business is a key factor of clear digital strategy. Such organizational vision, supported by leaders, fosters an innovative, change-friendly culture. For this to happen, the workforce needs to willingly and determinedly take on the digital transformation path.

Taking employees on the journey

This means every employee in the company should understand and support collaborative practices, innovation, open culture and adopting a digital-first mindset; plus, having the agility and flexibility, customer centricity to deliver change. Once this is in place a data-driven culture will start to form and new technologies can be steadily adopted.

This means companies need to implement systemic changes in how they organize and develop workforces. Organizations also need to seriously consider how they drive workplace innovation, and work collectively to cultivate digitally-minded cultures and experiences.

Coca Cola

As to how this might work in practice, one example is Coca Cola. The company acknowledges that culture change is one of the most difficult aspects of digital transformation to realize.

The soft drinks firm’s digital strategy officer, David Godsman notes that changing culture across the marketing team is the hardest thing Coca-Cola has to tackle as it undergoes the necessary transformation to bring the enterprise into the digital age.

Coca Cola is also attempting to alter its customer focus, acknowledging the need to create personalized experiences for consumers and customers, to fit in with consumers seeking multi-channel experiences and fast mobile access, especially when receiving promotions.

Latitude financial services

A second example of digital transformation with a customer focus is with Latitude financial services. According to Caroline Ruddick, who is the company’s general manager of marketing, there needs to be a twin strategy of developing and improving the customer experience. This shift in strategy, says Ruddick, must be bound to the process of ensuring that employees are responsive to the changes taking place within the organization so they can successful and emphatically offer high quality outfacing services.

Tied up with this is recognition that customers are increasingly more concerned about the experience of dealing with a product or company, seeking an easier, multi-channel offering, and they are less concerned about the actual product, or at least with having any significant loyalty to one product over another.

Adobe

Adobe provides a third example of a company that has recognized the value of culture change. According to Vision Critical, when Adobe made the decision to transition from physical software to a cloud-based model, the company recognized that it was necessary to shift its employees’ focus towards the the customer.

This was undertaken by developing a staff Experience-a-thon. Adobe had employees role play testing and providing feedback on Adobe portfolio of products, pretending to be customers. This led to an employee engagement strategy and a shift in culture, paving the way for Adobe’s evolution into a cloud company.

These examples demonstrate that the ‘big moment’ for an organization is when it embraces the fact that digital transformation is not a a technical problem to be fixed, but instead it is a cultural change to be enacted through the enterprise.

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Investment

5G wireless telecommunication corridor coming to Canada

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telecommunications
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Ontario and Quebec are partnering with major digital technology providers to construct a corridor of 5G wireless test beds throughout the two most populated provinces in Canada.

The goal of the $400-million public-private investment is to bring technological innovation to Canadian businesses — by allowing established players and startups to experiment with new products and innovative ideas within geographic concentrations of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions.

What is 5G?

5th generation wireless systems (5G) offer performance as high as 20 gigabits per second, said to be up to ten times faster than current 4G networks. As well as promising faster download speeds, 5G is also expected to usher in lower latency, which is the time it takes for the item to actually start downloading.

The development is a further sign of Canada’s commitment to place itself as a leader in new technologies, particularly with the promotion of startups offering connected services. The U.S., South Korea, Japan and China are also racing to establish hub areas with 5G services. Those who establish first are most likely to be ahead of this next-generation series of technological developments.

Public-private partnership to power new network

The project is called ‘Evolution of Networked Services through a Corridor in Quebec and Ontario for Research and Innovation’ — or ENCQOR for short.

According to The Globe and Mail, the two provincial governments will provide $67 million, with the remainder coming from five private-sector partners, including:

  • Ericsson
  • Ciena Canada
  • Thales Canada
  • IBM Canada
  • CGI

The partners will work with provincial coordinators Prompt, CEFRIO, and Ontario Centers of Excellence.

Over the course of five years, the money will go towards supporting 1,000 small and medium-sized enterprises connecting to the advanced 5G platform. Other parts of the funding will go towards providing support in terms of research and technology.

5G could power smart cities and streets

Discussing the new plans, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told City News that the types of developments that companies could usher under the 5G arrangements cover the expanse from:

  • autonomous vehicles
  • smart cities
  • improved traffic control and reducing accidents
  • retail innovations, like food deliveries
  • smart home technologies

“5G is the gateway to the future and we are just on the brink of this technological revolution,” says Bains. He said the news will help strengthen employment, with more than 4,000 jobs being created of which 1,800 of which will be specialized in 5G systems.

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