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Connection Silicon Valley launches exclusive innovation series for corporate VPs

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Joanne Fedeyko, CEO of Connection Silicon Valley
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Silicon Valley is world-renowned for producing some of the best startups and scaleups on the planet. The Valley is widely regarded as an innovation capital thanks to it being an ecosystem fuelled by talent and underpinned by networks of leaders who have done it before.

While Canadians often fly south to immerse themselves and soak up knowledge, Connection Silicon Valley spotted an opportunity to bring learning north of the 49th parallel and is doing so with a new, exclusive membership service beginning this fall.

Connection Silicon Valley’s Innovation VP Series is a Canadian-only membership service for VPs and directors of Canadian companies. Members get to participate in:

  • Quarterly innovation dinners with Silicon Valley’s brightest minds
  • Two full-day workshops of curated innovation topics
  • Quarterly webinars focusing on emerging trends

“Corporates often get busy with their current business strategy,” Joanne Fedeyko, CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, told DX Journal. “While often that strategy does involve being innovative, executives can really benefit from having more tools and inputs available to them from people who have done it before, or are facing the same challenges.”

Salon-style innovation dinners

The core of Connection Silicon Valley’s Innovation VP Series are the intimate, salon-style dinners. They feature guest speakers from the Valley who will share learnings from the trenches. Fedeyko says the format provides VPs and directors with real-world advice, practical input and recommendations from peers who face similar challenges.

“Collaboration in a real-world and tailored event allows senior leaders to accelerate innovation projects and overcomes obstacles,” Fedeyko said. “Conferences and online articles are important inputs, but leaders have to get out and meet people, and curating the right experience with the right people is what we’ve done with this event series.”

What sets the Connection Silicon Valley VP Innovation Series apart from other networking events is the emphasis on repeated exposure to ideas and people that make Silicon Valley a unique, innovative environment for businesses.

Fedeyko says many Canadian corporates struggle to find time to make trips to the Valley, so bringing the Valley to Canada in an exclusive, tight-knit setting of VPs and directors leads to a more valuable experience for attendees.

“Incorporating Silicon Valley ideas and the networking it inspires is critical to the innovation of Canadian businesses,” she said.

Inaugural Innovation VP Series

The first event happens on November 26th and will feature a talk from Julian Loren, a serial entrepreneur who most recently led Global Strategy and Partner Solutions at GE. Loren is now CEO of Smart Systems, a consulting company focused on smart solutions.

For Loren, the pressure to adapt and innovate as a business leader has never been more apparent.

“We’re entering an era where the nature of competition is fundamentally changing,” he said. “The disparity between the winner’s rich purse and the loser’s meager scraps will be bigger than it’s been in generations.”

Loren believes the gap between winners and losers is widening as a result of technology and business models that provide new levels of intelligence and adaptability.

“I’m excited to partner with Connection Silicon Valley and share some of my learnings from the past 30 years as a smart-system pioneer, serial entrepreneur, and ecosystem builder,” he said.

Fedeyko has hosted and designed salon-style network events for several years, and she says attendees appreciate the intimate setting, ability to grow their network, and learn from people who have vastly different experiences and are willing to share their successes and failures.

“Innovation doesn’t happen overnight,” she says. “Bringing in more people who have global perspectives, and people who have led innovation projects at large multinational organizations provides practical lessons that Canadian corporates have asked for.”

Any director- or VP-level business leader interested in joining the Innovation Series can apply through the Connection Silicon Valley website. Later this fall, Connection Silicon Valley is also launching an Executive Series designed for the corporate C-suite.

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Why it’s not too late for your digital transformation journey

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The conversation surrounding digital transformation has shifted well beyond questions of “should we,” to the affirmative “when we.” 

Basically, the “why” has become “when.”

But a new study from Wipro Digital — a follow-up to the company’s 2017 survey about leadership within digital transformation — ultimately shows that it isn’t too late for companies that are only just beginning the journey to catch up.

Additionally, where the 2017 survey found that one in three enterprise CEOs felt digital transformation efforts were a waste of time, the updated report shows that number is now essentially at 0%. 

While 87 percent of the 1,400 global enterprise C-suite leaders polled believe that companies who have started later than others still have a chance to climb to the level of their competitors, the biggest barriers identified are not the technology, but people-related issues.

Getting leadership on board

Taking a closer look, the biggest challenge comes down to sponsorship and business alignment, further emphasizing the importance of internal buy-in as a crucial first step to digital transformation:

  • 54 percent cited inconsistent sponsorship from senior leadership
  • 56 percent selected not being able to train their existing teams to change or use new technology, methods or processes
  • 55 percent indicated needing better alignment with business stakeholders.

Ultimately, once these personnel issues are addressed, the technology becomes the greater barrier — specifically, its adaptation and subsequent training of the Lines of Business.

“These results show that in the past two years, enterprise leaders have ensured that their organizations are capable of delivering ROI on their digital transformation efforts,” explains Rajan Kohli, president of Wipro Digital. “Leaders must align stakeholders and help their business units adapt to and leverage new technology, methods or processes.”

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‘Ethical AI’ matters — the problem lies in defining it

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News that Microsoft will invest around $1 billion to examine ethical artificial intelligence signals that the tech sector is thinking deeper about the ethics underlying transformative technologies. But what is ethical AI?

Microsoft is to invest around $1 billion into the OpenAI project, a group that has Elon Musk and Amazon as members. The partners are seeking to establish “shared principles on ethics and trust”. The project is considering two streams: cognitive science, which is linked to psychology and considers the similarities between artificial intelligence and human intelligence; and machine intelligence, which is less concerned with how similar machines are to humans, and instead is focused on how systems behave in an intelligent way.

With the growth of smart technology comes an increased reliance for humanity to place trust in algorithms, that continue to evolve. Increasingly, people are asking whether an ethical framework is needed in response. It would appear so, with some machines now carrying out specific tasks more effectively than humans can. This leads to the questions ‘what is ethical AI?’ and ‘who should develop ethics and regulate them?’

AI’s ethical dilemmas

We’re already seeing examples of what can go wrong when artificial intelligence is granted too much autonomy.Amazon had to pull an artificial intelligence operated recruiting tool after it was found to be biased against female applicants. A different form of bias was associated with a recidivism machine learning-run assessment tool that was biased against black defendants. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently sued Facebook due to its advertising algorithms, which allow advertisers to discriminate based on characteristics such as gender and race. For similar reasons Google opted not to renew its artificial intelligence contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for undisclosed ethical concerns.

These examples outline why, at the early stages, AI produces ethical dilemmas and perhaps why some level of control is required.

Designing AI ethics

Ethics is an important design consideration as artificial intelligence technology progresses. This philosophical inquiry extends from how humanity wants AI to make decisions and with which types of decisions. This is especially important where the is potential danger (as with many autonomous car driving scenarios); and extends to a more dystopian future where AI could replace human decision-making at work and at home. In-between, one notable experiment detailed what might happen if an artificially intelligent chatbot became virulently racist, a study intended to highlights the challenges humanity might face if machines ever become super intelligent.

While there is agreement that AI needs an ethical framework, what should this framework contain? There appears to be little consensus over the definition of ethical and trustworthy AI. A starting point is in the European Union document titled “Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI“. With this brief, the key criteria are for AI to be democratic, to contribute to an equitable society, to support human agency, to foster fundamental rights, and to ensure that human oversight remains in place.

These are important concerns for a liberal democracy. But how do these principles stack up with threats to the autonomy of humans, as with AI that interacts and seeks to influencing behavior, as with the Facebook Cambridge Analytica issue? Even with Google search results, the output, which is controlled by an algorithm, can have a significant influence on the behavior of users.

Furthermore, should AI be used as a weapon? If robots become sophisticated enough (and it can be proven they can ‘reason’), should they be given rights akin to a human? The questions of ethics runs very deep.

OpenAI’s aims

It is grappling with some of these issues that led to the formation of OpenAI. According to Smart2Zero, OpenAI’s primary goal is to ensure that artificial intelligence can be deployed in a way that is both safe and secure, in order that the economic benefits can be widely distributed through society. Notably this does not capture all of the European Union goals, such as how democratic principles will be protected or how human autonomy will be kept central to any AI application.

As a consequence of Microsoft joining of the consortium, OpenAI will seek to develop advanced AI models built upon Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform. There are few specific details of how the project will progress.

Commenting on Microsoft’s big investment and commitment to the project, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella does not shed much light: “AI is one of the most transformative technologies of our time and has the potential to help solve many of our world’s most pressing challenges…our ambition is to democratize AI.”

Do we need regulation?

It is probable that the OpenAI project will place business first, and it will no doubt seek to reduce areas of bias. This in itself is key to the goals of the partners involved. For wider ethical issues it will be down to governments and academia to develop strong frameworks, and for these to gain public acceptance, and then for an appropriate regulatory structure to be put in place.

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Digital transformation is causing C-suite tensions

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Photo by Taylor Nicole on Unsplash
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Digital transformation is not only about technology, it’s also about changes of practices which need to diffuse through an organization’s culture. This needs to be begin at the top. A new report finds C-suite discord is a block to effective DX processes.

Rapidly undergoing effective digitally transformation puts a strain across C-suite relationships, according to a new survey of major enterprises. The report has been produced by business management software provider Apptio, and commissioned by the Financial Times. Titled “Disruption in the C-suite“, the report is draws on the findings of a survey conducted with 555 senior executives, (50 percent occupying CxO roles). The executives were based in major economic nations: Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the U.S.

The report finds that while digital transformation leads to greater collaboration across different business functions, it can also create blurred responsibilities across the C-suite. This crossover carries the risk of key issues being missed; it also serves as a source of tension between top executives, as traditional functions merge and territorial disputes are triggered. As a sign of such differences, 71 percent of finance executives found the IT unit within the C-suite should be seeking greater influencing skills to better deliver the change their business requires.

Team deficiencies found in the survey included not having key performance indicators in place with to measure digital transformation progress. Also, the CFO was found to be the least deeply aligned member of the C-suite team, especially not being aligned with the CIO.

To overcome these divisions, the report recommends that organizations invest time in ‘bridging the trust gap’ between functions and seek to ease tensions, especially between the offices of the CIO and the CFO. An important factor is with establishing which function has accountability. Another measure that can be taken is with ensuing that data is more transparent and where key metrics are issued in ‘real-time’.

The report also charts how digital transformation is being fully embraced, as leaders at global brands are embracing processes and technologies like artificial intelligence, workplace reskilling, cloud computing, agile working and de-centralized decision-making.

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