Quebec artificial intelligence (AI) is still struggling to get out of the labs. Although Quebec is a recognized international center for the development of technologies associated with AI, its SMEs and other organizations make very little use of them. They are missing an opportunity to increase their productivity or improve their short-term profitability.
The start-up specializing in AI for the business world are however well aware of this potential. The Minister of Economy and Innovation and Minister responsible for Regional Economic Development, Pierre Fitzgibbon, has been repeating this for years now. “In addition to increasing the productivity of our SMEs, digital technologies are an effective response to the challenges caused by the scarcity of labour,” he declared again last Wednesday when the start-up Montreal company Worximity announced that it had received $14 million from a group of investors that includes, among others, Investissement Québec.
Worximity says it can improve the productivity of manufacturing companies by 20 to 30% without any particular effort on their part… except that of agreeing to take the famous digital shift so dear to Minister Fitzgibbon. Worximity helps SMEs take their first steps into what is known as “Industry 4.0”, where tons of data captured in real time from all over the company helps provide advice to managers, thus accelerating their decision-making .
A shift that can pay off, says Yannick Desmarais, founder and CEO of Worximity. “We create information that can be used immediately. This is a gain in efficiency that is achieved without investing too much. »
Better explain AI to SMEs
Despite these promises, Quebec SMEs continue to neglect the adoption of new technologies.
These are two studies that were published a few days apart that draw this somewhat unfortunate portrait of the underuse of technologies by Quebec organizations. In mid-May, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) published the results of a survey according to which 91% of SMEs in the country have invested significantly in technology in recent years, but only 5% of them use them effectively.
BDC finds that this situation is increasingly creating a digital divide between companies that increase their competitiveness through the proper application of technology and those that are slow to take this turn. Citing challenges related to costs and the uncertain benefit of using these technologies, close to 40% of companies surveyed by the BDC said they did not have a website, and two out of three SMEs do not analyze data relating to their clients.
Then, last Wednesday, the Order of Chartered Human Resources Advisors (CRHA) in turn shared the results of a survey focusing more specifically on the role of artificial intelligence in business in Quebec. His observation: this role is almost non-existent. This worries the order since AI is an effective way to help lessen the effect of labor shortages by automating certain redundant tasks and increasing the capacity of workers to do more work.
“And yet, we have the advantage in Montreal of being a global hub in the development of AI,” says the To have to Manon Poirier, executive director of the CRHA order. “Why this disconnect between the development and application of AI? »
A doubly intriguing question given that the SMEs surveyed by the order seem well aware of the potential of AI to improve their businesses: two out of three companies admit that they can improve productivity, and four out of five companies believe that they can automate internal processes and thus reduce the workload for their employees.
“There are so many new young companies these days that offer AI tools, these companies must better explain to SMEs the potential of their technology”, continues Manon Poirier, who imagines a facilitating agent capable of analyzing the processes of companies to guide them on the right tools to adopt quickly.
Only on the human resources side, the adoption of digital technologies has become essential not only to better recruit, but also to prevent hasty departures, she says.
Yannick Desmarais nods. “Today, attracting young workers by promising them paper and pencils does not work”, he illustrates.