May 06, 2020 News
AI and ML May Be the Answer for Business in Canada
Insights from the Board of Directors at AltaML Inc.
With a vast supply of natural resources, Canada has found its economic success largely as an export nation. Canada is regarded as an energy superpower due to its vast petroleum and natural gas reserves, making it the fifth largest exporter of petroleum and natural gas. However, with the global economy becoming more and more competitive and major disruptions continue to impact the energy industry, Canada is being challenged like never before.
Businesses need to come up with new strategies and products utilizing new technology in order to compete in today’s modern economy. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are an important opportunity to help grow business in Canada. Canada is already a front-runner in AI with Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal all identified as leading AI clusters.
The Board of Directors at AltaML, a leading AI and ML company based in Edmonton, has a fiduciary duty to oversee the affairs of the organization and act in the best interests of the corporation. With decades of experience, the Board has a wealth of insight into private business and the emerging capabilities of AI and ML.
AI and ML Offer a Tremendous Opportunity for Business Improvement and Competitiveness
According to Darren Rawson, Board Chair, as the pressure increases for businesses to be more efficient, "AI and ML offers businesses one of the best opportunities to drive competitiveness, not through radical innovation, but by taking advantage of data.” Director Terry Freeman continued suggesting "accurate, data driven, predictive decisions are what is going to differentiate the ‘survivors’ from the ‘also-rans’ in today’s complex business world.”
As Rawson explains, data is "an untapped asset of immeasurable value that Canadian businesses have been accumulating over time.” AltaML integrates AI and ML to help businesses utilize their data to its full potential.
AltaML starts with business problems or use-cases and applies AI and ML models to deliver value by improving decision making related to organisational efficiency and productivity, which affect the bottom line and increase competitiveness. The process typically starts with a ‘deep dive,’ an accelerated research project to evaluate the applicability of AI and ML to particular use-cases. Candidate use-cases with strong return-on-investment (ROI) can be further developed and integrated into commercial operations.
Rawson applauds AltaML for their "laser focus on commercializing scalable solutions for business that unlock value.” Many other start-ups or research companies focus a vast amount of energy on research and development. AltaML’s directs their research and development towards tangible use-cases from existing businesses, where there is a defined opportunity to generate ROI. Mario Nascimento, Director at AltaML and Chair of Computer Science at the University of Alberta, noted:
"The opportunities for business to save and be more efficient and agile are there – AI/ML is not inventing them; it is helping us (re)discover them.”
AltaML has already delivered hundreds of models spanning sectors, such as oil & gas, financial services, health, engineering, and numerous others. When asked about the ability to deliver value, Freeman, who is actively engaged in many private businesses as Director and Investor, commented "every single [business] I have introduced to AltaML has had a use-case that can apply AI and ML to solving a business problem or predicting customer behavior.”
Sample solutions include predicting the likelihood of a customer defection, of clients paying bills on time, or of winning a proposal on a large project. Solutions also include increasing productivity to existing processes, helping business professionals efficiently identify problems requiring attention in operations, or using visual recognition processes to more effectively identify infrastructure maintenance opportunities.
Initially the Board felt AI and ML may primarily be about big projects for big clients. While these opportunities definitely exist, AltaML has learned that mid-sized companies also have fantastic use-cases and they are often able to move faster, discovering value and moving on many projects. AltaML describes their ideal ML use-case as one that reduces costs, reduces risk or improves profits, but the specific applications of AI and ML are virtually endless. One AltaML client has over 15 AI and ML projects and are actively looking for more as the overall initiative becomes self-funding.
The Board has noted this is not about displacing workers, this is about enabling business and enhancing decisions. Director Mary Cameron observed "properly used, AltaML can work to free up human capacity for more creative, productive work.” She continued suggesting AI and ML "can give businesses a competitive advantage in the marketplace and provide insights to open up new opportunities.”
In provinces that are already experiencing economic disruptions, like Alberta, AI and ML can help bring new innovation to staple sectors, like oil and gas. As Nascimento explains:
"One can hardly argue that Alberta's economy can only benefit from diversification and domains related to so-called high-tech are ones that can be nurtured with relatively little investment and within a short time span.”
AltaML Prioritizes Culture and Relationships
While there are many companies in the tech space, AltaML has a powerful foundation built on talent, culture and relationships. They define their business and culture with four key values:
"Happy, Humble, Agile and Gritty.”
These fundamentals start at the top with AltaML’s founders, Cory and Nicole Janssen. Cameron, an active Chair and Director on numerous boards, described the Janssens as "insightful, intelligent, visionary, and driven.” She continued by saying "they are proven entrepreneurs with a track record of successful, profitable ventures… who care about their people, their community, Alberta’s and Canada’s future.”
To be successful in tech, in particular AI and ML, it is increasingly evident you need access to talent, and AltaML has a special relationship and partnership with the University of Alberta, which currently ranks number six in the world for AI and ML research. Nascimento feels the situation is ideal as "Edmonton is a progressive city and the University of Alberta produces high quality workforce… AltaML is at the right place at the right time and with a refreshing approach.”
With a headcount over 70 and growing, the opportunity to make a difference is significant. According to Freeman:
"AltaML’s approach to its people, partnering with academia to combine theory with practical solutions, and its vision for what it can be in the world, makes it special.”
AltaML is still in the early phase of its journey, but it is growing quickly, with offices now in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Furthermore, AltaML is already delivering real value for business. Rawson concluded saying "it will be exciting to see what a talented group of individuals with a passion to make a difference coupled with a great strategy will be able to accomplish.”
AltaML builds transformational software for business, powered by machine learning (ML). We partner with organizations using a co-development model where we can provide technical and strategic expertise on how to leverage their data with AI/ML to deliver significant ROI and new forms of competitive advantage.