It is a trend that comes as no surprise to Canadian IT professionals, technology providers, and industry observers: There is an inordinate number of organizations based in this country that are still well behind their international counterparts and competitors when it comes to innovation.
Why that is, and more importantly, what to do about it, was the subject of a panel entitled Canadian Technology Challenge: Transformation at the Speed of Innovation, held at the Digital Transformation Conference 2022.
Moderated by John Hutter, vice president and country manager of artificial intelligence (AI) software provider Dynatrace Canada, panelists included Mallory Greene, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Eirene, an initiative that provides online funeral arrangement services in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and Thomas Wardman, chief technology officer at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.
“First, I would like to say we just heard an excellent presentation from Jorge Lopez,” said Hutter. “He’s literally thrown down the gauntlet for innovation in organizations. I don’t think anyone could argue with his main assertion that innovation is accelerating as well as becoming more determinative when it comes to business success.”
He later asked both panelists why innovation continues to falter, particularly in organizations that are regulated, and what can be done to overcome the problem.
“From my experience, regulation has always been a hindrance to innovation and technology growth in Canada,” said Greene, who, before launching Eirene, worked at online investment management service Wealthsimple.
“We were one of the first of the fintech companies that existed in Canada, and the regulatory environment really wasn’t built for any type of different approach to financial services. And I’ve seen that in the funeral industry as well. The funeral industry is essentially regulated per province and in each, the legislation is very old.
“When I first launched Eirene people often told me, ‘well, you should just build software for funeral homes instead of building a direct-to-consumer business.’ And I just said there was essentially no way that they would ever want to use our services because there’s nothing that’s pushing them to towards change.”
Wardman, the 2020 CIO Of The Year in the non-profit sector when he was vice president of IT at the Royal Conservatory of Music, said particularly for many non-profit organizations, the problem comes down in part, to a lack of funding.
“When you are fighting for every dollar and allocating dollars to programming, which is the most important part of any type of non-profit or charity organization, investing in technology is a big expense,” he said.
The key, he added, is to not make any technology initiative “scary, because the thing is, technology can be challenging and difficult for many different professionals I have worked with including doctors and lawyers.”
Greene said another key to any initiative is to keep it simple.
“When we first launched our home page, we said we were a funeral arranging platform, and I soon realized that the word platform was freaking people out. It just did not resonate, and it wasn’t the right language. Now we say it is a funeral service, which is what we are. Communication is so important.
“For me, it’s been important to learn from other funeral homes and build relationships. Our goal is to help consumers have choice.
“We are focused on simplicity during a really difficult time, and we’re focused on affordability so that anyone can access high quality death care.”
Wardman said it is also critical to have staff members of any organization sign on and be upbeat about their digital transformation initiative.
“You want to make it something they want to be part of, and really build effective teams.
“We need to make sure that we are business guided not technology focused. It should be there to assist us to help us better at what we do, create better working conditions, and make it easier for folks to interact. That is the value of technology.”
Greene, meanwhile, said many organizations, regardless of whether they are non-profit or for-profit, can learn much from the way technology companies operate.
“It’s always about implementation, and I think this why tech businesses innovate so quickly,” she said. “It’s not about a perfect product or building everything at once. It’s about putting out a viable product and continuing to build off of that.”