The Year of AI Adoption: AI’s Role in Advancing Canadian Businesses

The rise of AI adoption marks a turning point for businesses and public sector organizations across the country. While there is still work to do to increase industry adoption and improve national AI readiness, there is an incredible opportunity ahead for Canada—one we cannot afford to overlook. Key to seizing this opportunity is enhancing education, fostering greater transparency, and promoting collaboration among stakeholders to boost understanding and trust in AI. 

We know that one of the best ways to drive enthusiasm and adoption of AI is to share success stories about how the technology is solving complex and longstanding business challenges. To do this, we recently welcomed several hundred business leaders to the AI Summit at Microsoft Canada’s headquarters in Toronto. It was an inspiring day where we learned from each other and discussed the forces shaping our economic future, from talent and culture to global business processes, and of course, innovation. The lessons from the event are clear: it’s critical that business and government leaders need to work together to increase trust in AI. Doing so will help shape the future for Canada, one where AI is integrated responsibly and effectively across sectors to drive competitiveness and improve lives.  

Public Trust and National Innovation 

The day started with an insightful conversation between the Honourable Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board and Microsoft Canada President, Chris Barry. Minister Anand emphasized how important storytelling can be to help explain the benefits of AI and increase trust and confidence both for businesses and the general public.  

“Public trust in AI isn’t just about demonstrating its capabilities. It’s about creating a culture of responsibility and transparency. Government has a crucial role in this process. By showing how AI can be used responsibly within our operations, which includes more than 300,000 employees, we’re setting an example and building trust with citizens. It’s also essential for us to share success stories from individuals and organizations across Canada. Together, we can demystify AI, demonstrate its benefits, and build public trust in its potential to enhance productivity and improve lives.” 

Emphasizing the importance of AI at a national level, she also addressed the recent $2.4 billion investment from the federal government in AI innovation.  

“With this investment, we’re not only boosting job growth and enhancing international competitiveness, but we are also signaling to the world that Canada is serious about leading in AI innovation. This substantial funding package will enable us to scale up AI research, support startups and SMEs, and drive productivity gains across all sectors.”  

Using AI for Real-World Business Challenges: Customer Success Stories 

At the Summit, several Microsoft partners and customers took the stage to talk about how they are leveraging AI to deliver practical solutions that tackle real business challenges in their organizations. For example, Chris Barry mentioned how Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) is using AI to run a shopping assistant that helps customers select tires and provide real-time inventory information to stores. CTC executives were also among the audience, eager to learn more from industry peers and thought leaders at the event.  

Here are some other notable stories from the day: 

How Manulife Is Using AI to Enhance the Customer Experience 

Manulife, Canada’s largest insurance company, has long been a leader in leveraging technology to enhance customer experiences and drive operational excellence. With a longstanding commitment to delivering value to their customers, Manulife is using machine learning across their business – from enhancing customer service to detecting fraud, analyzing risks and summarizing documents, all under the umbrella of their responsible AI framework. 

At the summit, Roy Gori, President of Manulife, shared insights from their transformative journey of digitization, emphasizing the crucial role of data architecture in enhancing customer experience and driving efficiency gains.  

“AI is arguably the most transformative technological advancement reshaping the way we do business – on par with the advent of the internet,” he said. “We are looking at a future where our operations are driven by Gen AI, and the benefit will translate directly into better customer experiences. Of course, there will be productivity gains and cost savings as part of this process – recent research points to a $1 trillion increase in annual value for the global insurance industry. But our priority is making things as smooth and efficient as possible for our customers. Reducing complexity is key to this journey, and ultimately, the customer will be the adjudicator on our success.”  

Gori also touched on the cultural shift required for successful AI adoption. “Underestimating the cultural journey required for change is a significant risk – you have to bring people along on the journey. As an organization, we can’t delegate AI without knowing about it ourselves. At Manulife, we have a new expansive education program and we’re talking to our teams about how they are using AI and what it means to them and the broader organization. It’s made some people uncomfortable, but getting out of our comfort zone is a good thing.” 

Navigating Retail with AI: Roots’ Vision for the Future 

For Roots CEO and President Meghan Roach, AI adoption is about optimizing business operations to meet evolving customer expectations. She sees AI as a problem solver, guiding the business to identify pain points and opportunities that can be addressed through thoughtful AI solutions. 

“At Roots, we’re fascinated by the potential of AI,” she said. “We’re focused on leveraging AI in practical, impactful ways. From personalized recommendations to contextualized shopping experiences, AI is an incredible tool for enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction. As we navigate the retail landscape over the next decade, AI will play an important role in improving customer experiences and driving business growth. To do this, changing the cultural narrative around AI is critical. At Roots, we see AI as an augmentation tool, empowering our teams to innovate, grow and deliver the best for our customers.” 

Improving Wildfire Management: AltaML’s AI Solution 

Nicole Janssen, co-founder and co-CEO of AltaML, an AI solutions company, talked about their collaboration with Alberta Wildfire which was designed to help predict fires and allocate resources more efficiently. Powered by Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, the AI solution is already positively impacting wildfire management in the province. Alongside vast amounts of data related to the dryness of soil, weather and human patterns and global CO2 levels, AltaML’s tool provides duty officers with extraordinary foresight, enabling them to allocate resources and mitigate wildfire risks more effectively. This partnership not only enhances operational efficiency but also shows AI’s potential to safeguard communities against the escalating threat of wildfires. 

“At AltaML, we’re using AI to solve big problems,” said Janssen. “Our work with the Government of Alberta is just one example. We also work across a range of sectors including veterinary, agriculture and legal tech using AI solutions to reshape how we approach complex business challenges. An important part of our work is about creating a culture of innovation and empowerment. We’re here to give people the data and tools they need to make better decisions, to shape a future where AI isn’t just a tool but a trusted partner in their business.”  

Fueling Faster AI Adoption in Canada  

The stories shared at the AI Summit all have a common theme: the potential of AI is immense, but unlocking it will require significant effort to address challenges and increase adoption. As Canada navigates its path forward, initiatives like the recent $2.4 billion federal investment in AI innovation signal a firm commitment to moving the nation to the forefront of global AI leadership. Increasing industry adoption, improving national AI readiness, and enhancing public trust remain important objectives. If we navigate these challenges effectively, Canada can unlock incredible potential for innovation, productivity and economic growth, ultimately securing its place as a global leader in AI. 

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