Collaboration with academic communities is the key to success with artificial intelligence

06 September 2021 by Julien Crowe and Jesse Vincent-Herscovici
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A lot of the innovation happening today is about finding ways to work artificial intelligence (AI) into business processes. It’s not always easy, but collaboration is key, say experts Julien Crowe, Senior Manager of the Artificial Intelligence Factory at National Bank, and Jesse Vincent-Herscovici, Vice President, Business Development at Mitacs.

Leveraging AI is a way for businesses of all sizes to stay competitive in a rapidly changing environment. They can lean on the expertise of strategic partners or academics to make the right choices and maximize their likelihood of success. 

A tech turn for the smarter

Canada’s AI ecosystem1 is extremely competitive—in fact, we’re one of the top 5 most advanced countries in this field. In 2018, artificial intelligence firms saw revenue grow by 65%. That revenue accounted for 5% of the enterprise solutions market. What’s more, $824 million was invested in 98 initiatives across Canada in 2018, compared to $360 million invested in 58 initiatives in 2017.

AI opens a world of possibilities. It can be used to personalize customer service, which makes for a better client experience. It can help manage inventory and plan delivery routes more efficiently. In sales, it makes it easier to predict the number of units sold.

It has applications in the aerospace, finance, insurance, legal and energy industries, to name just a few. Large corporations are already using it, either because they have access to the latest tech or because they’ve figured out how to tap into the expertise they need. Businesses that leverage AI can boost their competitiveness and agility, accelerate their growth and increase their value ahead of a sale. 

Those that lag behind risk being left in the dust: the market is now global, almost entirely digital and changing at lightning speed.

Alliances between SMEs are a must

True, incorporating AI into a business process can be intimidating. The technology is still relatively new, and most business owners are still learning how it impacts their corporate strategy. 

Businesses can definitely benefit from forming alliances. It can be hard to develop all the expertise you need in-house to deliver products and services that are competitive on the global market. 

Strategic partnerships allow businesses to share costs and risks while they get an initiative up and running until the technology has been onboarded internally. The more a business partners with others on innovation, the better it can access the most advanced technology without having to divert internal resources away from its priorities. Such alliances feed its business strategy and can provide options when the environment changes unexpectedly.

We’re already seeing some exemplary collaborations, for example in aerospace, where innovation comes with a big price tag. In the financial sector, institutions are joining forces to build stronger cybersecurity protections, which are vital to ward off cyberattacks. We’d like to see more of a culture of collaboration so that innovation is shared outside of the corporate walls. That way, it can be more accessible, less risky and less expensive.

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Alliances with the academic community are just as important

Researchers at Canada’s colleges and universities are eager to mount research projects with access to real-life data. They hope to develop novel solutions with the potential to transform an industry and improve society.

It’s not always easy to foster linkages between the private sector and the academic world. They are operating in different realities, both in terms of budgets and timelines. But specialized organizations like Mitacs can give businesses the tools they need to forge the right partnerships. 

Just look at how the big American tech firms collaborate with universities. It’s not for any lack of R&D money or qualified workers. It’s a way to develop new products, create value and gain a competitive edge while maintaining a talent pipeline. Canadian SMEs can do it too. 

Businesses that adopt AI and do so by working with other firms, academics and governments will be able to create better conditions for success in today’s market. Because many heads are better than one.

2019 Canadian AI Ecosystem

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