Intelligent Automation: Transformation in a Time of Uncertainty
October 19, 2023 | Toronto
Companies across industries are investing in automation and artificial intelligence projects that may increase efficiency, boost productivity, and help ensure their long-term success. Executives from business and IT gathered for this roundtable dinner to share their experience and ideas about how their firms can harness the power of artificial intelligence.
- Marcus Bertagnolli, Senior Vice President, Operational Accounting & IT Solutions, Choice Properties REIT
- Rohit Chandra, Vice President I&IT Development & Delivery, Metrolinx
- Connie Donohue, Director, Canada East Technology Sales, IBM Canada
- Debbie Gamble, Chief Innovation and New Ventures Officer, Interac
- Roberto Israel, Vice President, Global Head of IT, Celestica
- Vipin Jain, Director, Intelligent Automation Centre of Excellence, OMERS
- Milena Kumurdjieva, Associate Vice President, Advanced Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Automation Enablement, Canadian Tire Corporation
- Dr. Yannick Lallement, Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, Scotiabank
- Julie Lévesque, Executive Vice President, Technology & Operations, National Bank of Canada
- Ryan Macaleer, Vice President, AI Ops & Integration, IBM
- Saima Malik, Head of Intelligent Automation, TD Bank Group
- Caren Morrison, Vice President, IT Operations & Site Reliability Engineering, Royal Bank of Canada
- Jaime Tatis, Chief Insights Officer, TELUS
- Scott Taylor, Director General, Digital Enablement, Shared Services Canada
- Lisa Mateo, Business Correspondent, Bloomberg
- Sandra Mergulhão, Executive Producer, Bloomberg Television
After a brief welcome, Lisa Mateo, Business Correspondent, Bloomberg, kicked off the conversation on tech by opening the floor to a discussion regarding the FinOps (financial operations) space. Ryan Macaleer, Vice President, AI Ops & Integration, IBM, was quick to jump in and tackle the subject.
“FinOps is an emerging space. It’s the intersection between financial management responsibility and actual operations, specifically the cloud. And it’s still evolving,” Macaleer said. “We put a huge stake in the ground last quarter when we announced our acquisition of Apptio Inc. It [Apptio] looks at all your financial information and then combines that with your operational goals.”
Macaleer mentioned that this acquisition was pertinent to the topic of automation, particularly IT automation, because the tools Apptio uses utilize automation. Jaime Tatis, Chief Insights Officer, TELUS, agreed with Macaleer in saying that FinOps was playing a key role in the business and technology sector.
“We’ve been focusing on FinOps for a while. The main thing we’re doing is learning from it,” Tatis said. He added that he finds FinOps is moving towards optimization.
With the topics of AI and automation now fully brought to the table, Mateo broached another subject: Is it better to take baby steps when it comes to implementing AI? Or is it better to dive in head-first?
“Every organization is different,” said Rohit Chandra, Vice President I&IT Development & Delivery, Metrolinx. “We’re all on our own journey. … You have to put out the value, start small, and then build on that.”
Noticing a historical comparison, Chandra shifted the topic to the idea of cloud computing and the parallels seen today in AI. He mentioned that 18 years ago, the cloud was what most businesses were concerned with implementing. Some companies and industry leaders were even scared of cloud tech. But now the focus has shifted to the newest kid on the block in AI, and every company is learning to implement the tech in different ways, just as they did with the cloud.
Marcus Bertagnolli, Senior Vice President, Operational Accounting & IT Solutions, Choice Properties REIT, had this to say about the introduction of AI to the business realm: “Are there more people or less people today working with AI? The jury’s still out. But new technology has always resulted in more employment. The problem is that it’s different people and skill sets that are benefitting.” He added: “Certain jobs become obsolete, and certain people will never recover. So how do we fix that?”
Caren Morrison, Vice President, IT Operations & Site Reliability Engineering, Royal Bank of Canada, stepped in to remind everyone that while AI and automation seem new, they aren’t.
“Automation has been around a long time,” said Morrison. “And there’s a good place for that, but we also have to look at leveraging what capabilities already exist in our industry.” By this, Morrison meant that a hybrid model needs to remain in place. AI and automation are certainly keys to evolution in the business sector, but the people behind the work will always matter most.
“Right, that requires a strategic decision and investment before you start deploying things. … You need to balance the two,” said Julie Lévesque, Executive Vice President, Technology & Operations, National Bank of Canada.
Vipin Jain, Director, Intelligent Automation Centre of Excellence, OMERS, agreed with Morrison and Lévesque, mentioning that the approach to AI can’t be so automatic. It’s certainly a key to the future, but the approach must be grounded and exact.
“AI won’t be everything, but we need to find the right use for it. If we don’t, it will just be expensive,” Jain said.
Next, Mateo broached the idea of making investments for strategic technology solutions versus leveraging automation, and particularly how the participants were balancing those facets.
Rohit Chandra mentioned that his team takes a design-centric approach to the idea of leveraging automation and strategic technology solutions. To illustrate his thoughts, Chandra discussed the example of how Metrolinx might deal with congested train platforms.
“It’s a safety concern. … So, we could create a technology solution and go into design mode and come up with a solution in eight months. Or we could look through a design-centric lens and create something that gets us 80% there. … And it may decrease the priority if we get 80% of the work done.” Chandra mentioned that in cases like this, automation can help in many ways, but that it remains a joint effort.
Connie Donohue, Director, Canada East Technology Sales, IBM Canada, agreed with Chandra’s approach, stating that his philosophy was smart because it “reframes the problem” and looks at things from a “different point of view.”
Caren Morrison then mentioned how automation has been assisting RBC’s late-night shift workers a great deal. RBC had numerous employees struggling through night shifts, but Morrison thought, what if there’s an answer for that?
“We went and worked with teams in Toronto and asked, what if there’s a way to fix this?” Morrison said. “What if experts can help you automate work? … And we were able to automate 60-70 people off of late-night shifts. … And no one lost their jobs.”
Morrison added that one of the key roles automation plays is that it benefits younger, newer workers’ lives, and that it leads to them buying into company culture right away.
All this positive talk around automation made Milena Kumurdjieva, Associate Vice President, Advanced Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Automation Enablement, Canadian Tire Corporation, pose an all-important “chicken-or-the-egg” question.
“So what comes first? Automation or AI?” Kumurdjieva said, referring to which form of tech businesses ought to implement first.
“Everybody wants to do AI, but that’s not necessarily the right option,” said Macaleer.
“It depends on the level of your company’s maturity,” added Saima Malik, Head of Intelligent Automation, TD.
Scott Taylor, Director General, Digital Enablement, Shared Services Canada, proceeded to bring up one of the hottest topics across the globe today: Chat GPT and its integration into the mainstream.
“When ChatGPT came out and brought AI to the masses, the hype went through the roof. If I had one conversation about AI every week back then, now I’m having six. And sometimes I’m trying to bring people back to automation. But they don’t want to … The hype [for Chat GPT] is there. … It’s 10 times faster than anything I’ve seen in the past 20 years.”
But is ChatGPT all everyone makes it out to be? Marcus Bertagnolli didn’t seem so sure.
“Here is what scares me about ChatGPT,” said Bertagnolli. “Every time I ask it a question–and I only ask questions I know the answer to–it’s always wrong. Always!”
After laughter in the room subsided, Chandra brought to mind an old quote from renowned writer and author Kevin Kelly. “It’s not a race against the machines; it’s a race with the machines,” said Chandra, channeling Kelly. His message: We must learn to work with AI systems rather than against them.
With the dinner starting to wind down, Mateo asked the roundtable participants what their thoughts were on virtual reality.
Saima Malik, Head of Intelligent Automation, TD, mentioned that her team uses virtual reality to conduct campus interviews. She added that the experience is fun and immersive for those involved.
To wrap up, Mateo posed one final question to the room. Are younger generations prepared for what’s coming? Are they learning enough about AI and automation to succeed in the future of business?
Debbie Gamble, Chief Innovation and New Ventures Officer, Interac, said that if children and students aren’t already learning about AI, then there’s going to be a massive demand for it.
The good news is that Scott Taylor certainly seemed to think younger generations were prioritizing learning the right skills.
“I was impressed by the students at a recent job fair I was at,” said Taylor. “Without any prompting, the software engineering students were all over AI. Their resumes led off with it. Many of them blew me away with their knowledge.”
Morrison agreed, saying that “kids these days seem to know how to leverage the right technology.”
All in all, participants seemed to agree that the future is in good hands.
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