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The great buy-in: How to learn to love AI at work

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The conversation around AI is changing — and the emphasis on the augmentation of current workers, rather than the wholesale replacement of segments of the workforce, is a significant (and many would argue, necessary) shift. However, anxiety and fear are still tough contenders for those trying to usher in a new era of AI-assisted workplaces.

“It all comes down to what people want to change,” said Matas Sriubiskis, Growth Analyst at Zoom.ai, during the recent mesh conference meetup at Spaces in downtown Toronto.

Zoom.ai is a chat-based productivity tool that helps employees automate everyday tasks including searching for files, scheduling meetings, and generating documents. In an interview with DX JournalSriubiskis said public opposition to AI remains a major stumbling block not just for technology companies, but for businesses around the world.

As the language around AI changes, it becomes obvious that people want change from the technology, but remain hesitant about the disruptive effect AI-based automation could bring to their industries.

As highlighted in a recent Forbes article, knowledge-based workers with tenure, who have developed their skill-set over a period of time, are acting along the lines of basic psychology when it comes to fear surrounding automation. Unfortunately, that push-back can severely stunt the success of digital transformation projects designed to improve the lives of workers throughout the company, not replace them.

“A lot of people are afraid that AI’s going to take their job away,” said Sriubiskis. “That’s because that’s the narrative that we’ve seen for so long. It’s now about shifting the narrative to: AI’s going to make your job better and give you more time to focus more on the things that you’ve been hired to do because you’re good at doing them. There are tons of websites online talking about whether your job’s going to be taken away by AI, but they never really talk about how people’s jobs are going to be improved and what things they won’t have to do anymore so they can focus on the things that actually matter.”

Buy-in requires tangible results

This general AI anxiety can seem like a big obstacle to companies looking to adopt AI — but there are important steps companies can take to ensure their AI on-boarding is done with greater understanding and effectiveness.

As startups and businesses look to break through the AI fear-mongering, they have to demonstrate measurable benefits to employees, showing how AI can make work easier. By building an understanding of how AI affects employees, showing them how it benefits them, and using that information to inspire confidence in the project, businesses can work to create a higher level of employee buy-in.

One of the simplest examples of how to demonstrate this kind of benefit comes from Zoom.ai’s digital assistant for the workplace. An immediately beneficial way AI can augment knowledge-based workers is by giving them back their time.According to McKinsey & Company research cited by Zoom.ai, knowledge workers spend 19 percent of their time — one day a week — searching for and gathering information, sequestered by app or database silos. By showing how the employee experience can be improved with the use of automated meeting scheduling or document retrieval, you generate employee buy-in, said Sriubiskis.

“For us, the greatest advantage is giving employees some of their time back, so they can be more effective in the role that they were hired to do. So if there’s a knowledge-based worker, and they’re an engineer for example, they shouldn’t be spending time booking meetings, generating documents, finding information or submitting IT tickets. Their time would be better spent putting it towards their engineering work. For an enterprise company, based on our cases, we estimate that we can give employees at least 10 hours back a month. That allows them to be more productive, increase their collaboration and their creativity, and the overall employee experience improves.”

Full comprehension of a problem leads to better implementation

Another way to ensure a greater level of employee confidence is to understand the core problem that AI could be used to solve. You can’t just throw AI at an issue, said Sriubiskis. The application of the AI solution has to make sense in the context of an identified problem.

“When a lot of companies talk about their current endeavours, they’re saying, ‘we’re exploring AI to do this.’ But they’re not actually understanding a core problem that their employees are facing. If you just try to throw a new technology at a problem you don’t fully understand, you’re not going to be as successful as you want. You might be disappointed in that solution, and people are going to be frustrated that they wasted time without seeing any results.”

This deliberate effort to understand a key problem before implementing a solution can drive to better outcomes. That’s why Zoom.ai has incorporated this kind of core observation into its process of on-boarding clients or approaching a new project.

“Before we do a proof-of-concept or a pilot now,” said Sriubiskis, “we require companies to do an interview with some of our product and our UI/UX team. That way, we can understand how they do things currently, but also so we can provide a quantitative metric. Qualitative is nice, but people also want to see the results, and make sure their work was worth it. We  make sure to interview a whole bunch of users, clearly understand the problem, and make sure what we’re doing isn’t a barrier to what they’re actually trying to solve, it’s going to help it and help it more over time.”

These approaches are all about making the team of employees feel like an AI solution is working for them, leading to greater effectiveness of AI implementation to augment the workforce. It remains key, said Sriubiskis, to make sure employees can see the tangible benefits of the technology. Zoom.ai makes that employee experience a core part of their on-boarding process: “We report back to our users and tell them how many hours they’ve saved. So they see how the actual improvements are seen by them, not just by management or the company as a whole.”

The future is filled with AI. It’s just a question of making sure it helps, not hurts, human capital — and that a positive transition to AI tools prioritizes the employee experience along the way.

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Calgary college launches new program in response to a changing workforce

Businesses in Alberta have seen an upswing in the need for trained IT professionals, and with the launch of a new Information Technology Systems diploma this fall, Bow Valley College is prepared to provide the talent.

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Back when floppy disks and dial-up internet were the height of technology in the office, concepts like 3D printers and self-checkout machines were pure science fiction.

It’s only been 20 years since then, but the world has since gone through a digital transformation that’s impacting businesses everywhere.

In a 2016 survey conducted by the global enterprise software company IFS, 86 per cent of senior business leaders from 20 different countries said that this digital transformation will play a key role in their market in the following five years.

This shift into a digital marketplace has also affected what kind of skills employers need, and Calgary’s Bow Valley College is working to provide the training needed to fill those in-demand roles.

Training rooted in industry demand

With the launch of the new Information Technology Systems (ITS) Diploma this fall, students will be given the most up-to-date IT education to provide a skilled workforce to businesses across Alberta.

Jeff Clemens, program coordinator and instructor at Bow Valley College, played a role in creating the ITS program, and said the process started with consulting industry professionals across the province. All of the companies consulted said they were in need of more trained IT experts to support the technology that keeps them running.

“Industry demand was a big reason why we launched this program,” said Clemens. “The main feedback we got from consulting with people was: ‘We need more graduates.’ Even our own IT staff here at Bow Valley College are saying, ‘When will you be getting these graduates, because we need more people’.”

Hector Henriquez is a desktop analyst in Bow Valley College’s IT department and said he’s also noticed an influx of companies in the city searching for IT professionals over the past few years.

“Nowadays, having IT is more and more essential,” said Henriquez, “Even the basic services that everyone takes for granted, like internet and email and printing, they need to be maintained and updated and secured. You can’t run a business now without IT.”

Entry-level positions lead to exciting careers in tech

During consultations, Clemens said that businesses specifically pointed to a gap in finding people to fill entry-level IT positions. Many only wanted people in entry-level positions for approximately a year, ultimately looking to move them into something more specialized, like the growing need for cyber security.

“The move toward cloud computing and the focus on cyber security and data security is reflected in the number of jobs that are now in the market,” said Phil Ollenberg, Team Lead of Student Recruitment at Bow Valley College.

“There are now self-checkouts, so there are fewer actual cashiers, but there are IT professionals and data analysis professionals in the background who are supporting that technology — and those are higher paid jobs.”

Ollenberg added that the need for IT seems to be clear to students too, as the two-year ITS diploma already had applicants before it was even officially announced.

“Our prospective learners are seeking this career out,” he said. “They’re looking for what they know will be a guaranteed job.”

When the first students graduate from the ITS program in 2021, Clemens is confident that they’ll be ready to take on the industry demands. With solution-based training in the latest cloud and security software, they’ll be prepared to tackle the next technological advancement — even if it seems as futuristic as 3D printing did in 1999.

“With IT, you can’t just sit back and expect that things will stay the same,” Clemens continued. “This program is very hands-on. We’re giving them the base, but teaching them that the base will change, and that’s OK because they’ll still have that ability to learn and come up with solutions.”

For more information on the ITS program, visit the Bow Valley College website.

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Which innovations will shape Canadian industry in 2019?

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Canada is in the midst of an economic shift. New and traditional industries are increasingly being driven by innovation and these advances in technology are shifting the economic landscape at an unprecedented pace.

This is the assessment by Borden Ladner Gervais, which is Canada’s largest law firm. The company has issued a new thought leadership report, titled “Top Innovative Industries Shaping the Canadian Economy”.

The report weighs in on the opportunities and risks Canada faces in order to maintain its status as an international leader in innovation across eight key industries: cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, smart cities, cryptocurrency and blockchain, autonomous vehicles, fintech, renewable energy and cannabis.

To find out more about the report and its implications for Canadian businesses, Digital Journal spoke with Andrew Harrison, a partner at BLG.

Digital Journal: Where does Canada stand as a global tech innovator?

Andrew Harrison: Canada has always been at the forefront of innovation. Products developed by Canadians or Canadian companies encompass a variety of industries and include medicinal insulin, the snowmobile, the telephone, the pager, BlackBerry Messaging, IMAX, the Canadarm and the goalie mask, to name a few. Canadians are also fast adopters of new technologies; email money transfer between individuals, which was inconceivable only a few years ago, has been used by 63 per cent of Canadians.

This is why Canada is recognized worldwide for its research and technological know-how, but we have to be mindful of the challenges in a global competitive market.

DJ: What potential does Canada have to grow faster? Is this sector specific?

Harrison: Canada is well positioned to succeed and take the lead in all innovative industries, but there are definitely sector-specific challenges that could limit this growth. For example, the lack of regulation as to whether cryptocurrencies are considered securities or not is creating uncertainty, which may restrain investment in this sector.

DJ: What are the risks that could hamper innovation and development?

Harrison: For any new product, financing is always an issue; with innovation, money becomes an even more crucial element. Companies must have access to capital – including from individual and institutional investors – if they want to bring their innovative product/process to life. Evolving politics and policies can also have a significant impact.

DJ: What framework will Canada need in the future to secure its innovation potential?

Harrison: The key element is finding a proper balance between regulating the issues that might be created by the innovation itself or its use and providing a space where innovations can thrive without too many restrictions.

DJ: What does the Canadian government need to do?

Harrison: In many cases, laws and regulations were enacted long before we saw these innovative technologies and products brought to life, so they need to be updated. In certain sectors, such as cryptocurrencies and autonomous vehicles, the Canadian government has yet to provide a framework that would define the playing rules for all participants.

The government will also need to take a look at its current regulations on privacy: the coming into force in May 2018 of the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) and recent high-profile data breaches have created the need for stronger privacy guidelines. Failure to do so could prevent Canadian businesses from accessing the European market.

DJ: What can academia contribute?

Harrison: Universities play a big role in fostering innovation – they could be the home of research and innovation and incubators of ventures, entrepreneurs, and tech talent. Universities can partner with industry players and have their researchers work closely to solve key industry issues. This is already happening in Canada. The Smith School of Business and Scotiabank, for instance, have partnered to set up the Scotiabank Centre of Customer Analytics at Smith School of Business to bring together professors, graduate students and analytics practitioners to collaborate on applied research projects in customer analytics. The academia plays a big role in creating an innovation ecosystem.

DJ: What is Canada’s most pressing technological need?

Harrison: There is still much work to be done to connect with Canada’s rural and remote communities. In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that broadband Internet amounted to an essential service and adopted minimal performance standards across Canada: 50 megabit per second download and 10 megabit per second upload. However, the evidence presented to the Committee by a variety of stakeholders shows that the digital divide remains prominent in Canada – it is estimated that it will take roughly 10 to 15 years for the remaining 18% of Canadians to reach those minimums. Canada needs to develop a comprehensive rural broadband strategy in partnership with key stakeholders and make funding more accessible for small providers.

DJ: What type of investment is needed with skills and training?

Harrison: Canada has a serious shortage of tech talent, which makes it imperative for both the government, the education, and the business sector to invest in raising and fostering STEM talents. To help businesses attract the talent they require, the federal government is offering hiring grants and wage subsidies to offset payroll costs for recent post-secondary STEM students and graduates.

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#BoardForward crowdfunding campaign aims to boost female board leadership

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Shannon Gordon is the CEO of theBoardList
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Diverse board leadership is becoming a priority for public and private companies, and discussion around the topic continues to grow. From the business community to the public at large, the lack of diverse leadership is increasingly seen as a detriment to company performance.

Only 9 percent of unicorn companies — companies with a valuation of $1 billion and up — have board seats filled by women despite evidence showing diverse boards lead to better business outcomes.

While governments are starting to take note — California recently passed legislation to ensure that at least one member of a public company’s board is a woman — private and public companies are still being urged to build more inclusion into their company boards.

Curated talent marketplace theBoardList is one such organization looking to drive change and empower female business leaders across industries and build a new kind of diverse boardroom. The organization already has more than 5,000 members, and is looking to increase its community through a new #BoardForward crowdfunding campaign.

The campaign seeks to raise $200,000 to help the organization find more female board candidates, prepare them for board service and help them find a board placement.

Shannon Gordon,CEO of theBoardList, spoke to DX Journal about the priorities of the crowdfunding project.

DX Journal: The launch video for the crowdfunding project states that “Boards lack diversity because networks lack diversity” — can you unpack that?

Shannon Gordon: The vast majority of board searches, in fact 96 percent of them, are filled via referral. So inherently, they’re dependent on networks. The only way you’re going to get diversity in the boardroom is if the networks are diverse, and today the vast majority of CEOs and boards are made up of men.

Of course it’s not true that men don’t know great women. But we do know that it’s a human tendency to find people who look like you, act like you, and think like you when looking for new colleagues. It’s that homogeneity in those networks, in part, that drives the lack of diversity in the boardroom in particular because it’s such a network-based form of search.

DX Journal: Now you’re launching the #BoardForward crowdfunding campaign. Why go the crowdfunding route?

Gordon: We have a really engaged community of people who are very excited and anxious to support an increase in diversity in the workplace generally, and are looking for the right tools and systems to help make that happen.

Because theBoardList offers a solution, there are so many different ways which we can advocate for diversity. Advocacy is a very important part of driving change, but we’re really passionate about providing a solution and a tool for people to use for when they come to realize that diversity is something that will help their company reach its peak performance. We’re there with a solution.

For us, the crowdfunding campaign is about harnessing that engagement and enthusiasm and desire to make change from both the community and the public. So much of the context in the last year plus has shifted, and I think people are looking to make their own personal impact.

DX Journal: You want to scale your platform — what does that mean?

Gordon: It’s a couple of things. The first is reach. We started initially focused on the tech community, but very rapidly moved beyond that, and now we cover virtually all industries.

We want to make sure we continue to drive depth into each of those industries. Every time someone comes to theBoardList, we want them to find the perfect board candidate. That’s our aspiration. So we want to make sure we are talking to, and reaching, all of those qualified women who have the potential to be that candidate.

The second thing is that we want to continue to make investments in our platform technology. As we scale the community, we need to be able to effectively match candidates with the right opportunity. So we’ll continue to make investments in our ability to do that matchmaking effectively in our search algorithm.

Lastly, we want to make sure that we’re driving demand. There are many companies that already see the value in diversity and are actively looking for female candidates. But there are also many that haven’t realized this yet. We want to be talking to those companies, so we’ll need to scale the team and scale the reach to be as effective as we want to be.

DX Journal: What kind of success has theBoardList seen so far?

Shannon Gordon: We’ve grown our community to more than 5,000 people so far, 80 percent of whom are CEO or C-suite or board of directors already, so it’s a very premium talent marketplace. 

We’ve also had more than 550 searches on the platform since it launched in 2016. It typically takes about nine months for somebody to find a board director, and we’re exposing additional candidates who might not have been found before.

Finally, almost half of our placements have been women who are serving on their first board. Which means that through theBoardList, they found their first board seat. That’s really exciting for us because what we want to make sure we promote mobility for women who are perhaps just below board service, but haven’t gotten a chance to serve yet.

DX Journal: How have you been growing your network up to this point?

Gordon: It has been almost entirely word of mouth which is why we’re so excited about the impact we’ve had. But we’re also excited to use the crowdfunding campaign to help us get some of the capital we need to extend that impact.

In order to identify talent that is truly ready for board service, we leverage a network of board directors — people already sitting on corporate boards. They are some really impressive individuals that we know have impressive networks of people around them. We’re aggregating those networks. So inherent in our business is a word-of-mouth phenomenon, as we ask people to nominate women from their network for board service.

We want to extend that impact, which is why we’re launching the #BoardForward campaign.

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