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Disruptive Technology: Deloitte Canada Chief Innovation Officer Terry Stuart Talks to Cantech Letter

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Deloitte Canada Chief Innovation Officer Terry Stuart at C2MTL

Deloitte Canada Chief Innovation Officer Terry Stuart began his presentation from the main stage at C2MTL this morning with the endearing story of a milk cow named Crystal, who simultaneously ended his boyhood dreams of becoming a dairy farmer by kicking him across a barn and, more luckily, sent him down the path of helping to cultivate the next generation of Canada’s technology sector.

So we have Crystal, who likely didn’t realize the bargain she was making with fate on that day, to thank for the fact that Deloitte Canada now has a Chief Innovation Officer.

Realizing that his dairy career was over, Stuart spent the last two years of high school studying in Wales, where he met a young Julie Payette, who would go on to become a high-tech superhero on her own terms.

By the time Stuart returned to the family farm, his father had transformed the operation, using technology to accomplish a lot of the tasks that both he and the hired man his father used to employ, putting them both out of work.

At that point, Stuart had the incontrovertible proof of technology’s disruptive potential for industries that are not obviously tech-related.

Since then, as Chief Innovation Officer at Deloitte Canada, Stuart has overseen the opening of a space at Waterloo’s Communitech Hub, called d {} (pronounced D-space), putting the company in direct contact with the explosive potential of companies like Thalmic Labs and Mojio.

On a more depressing note, though, Deloitte has just released a study, evaluating the preparedness of Canadian businesses for technological disruption and innovation, surveying over 700 companies across a variety of metrics.

The report card is not good. Canada’s conservative business culture has perhaps created conditions in which many Canadian businesses don’t see the point in embracing an innovative approach until the pain of doing nothing becomes greater than the pain of changing.

Terry Stuart sat down with Cantech Letter at C2MTL.

Deloitte, along with a few other legacy companies, like Canadian Tire and TD and Manulife, has taken up residence at the Communitech Hub in Waterloo recently. What benefit do those companies see from inhabiting that space?

Most of the companies that are going to Communitech are very successful companies, including Deloitte. But we want to take it to the next level. None of us want to rest on our laurels. The challenge of disruption is that new ventures are coming fast and furious every day, every year. They want to stay ahead of that curve and make sure they’re adapting some of the new technologies. Rather than waiting for large scale technology companies to come along, they want to learn the technology and the solutions, but also to learn how to build fast, how to develop fast, and to implement fast.

“Every time I go across the country, the start-ups tell me they don’t have a problem really in finding money. What they have a problem with is finding clients that’ll be the early adopters, and especially finding Canadian clients. They can actually sell in Europe, sell to France, sell to Israel, faster than they can sell to Canada.”

The report that Deloitte just released in April paints a pretty grim picture of Canadian business’ preparedness as regards innovation and technology. On the one hand, it’s depressing. Optimistically, though, there’s lots of room for growth, there’s lots of room for innovation. What’s the potential for technological disruption as far as some of the less obvious aspects of the Canadian business sector, like the resource or finance sectors, for example?

I think what’s going to be interesting in this next generation is the collisions between industries and between technologies. So if you think about how the financial services industry can be disrupted by high-tech, or by things like AI. How does the autonomous car impact the financial services industry? How does it impact insurance? How does it impact real estate? How does it impact shipping? How does it impact manufacturing? So lots of different collisions and I think the challenge for us is going to be, how do we actually think broadly enough to think about the implications of some of these technologies? What we think about is, we look at the exponentials, because it’s not about any one of them and how they impact. It’s the combination and collaboration and collisions between the technologies and, in fact, between the industries. So we’re seeing financial services companies significantly collaborate with retailers and with manufacturers. Lots of different changes there.

For establishment companies who are in the Communitech Hub, rubbing shoulders with Google and Aeryon Labs and Thalmic Labs, how do you evaluate some of those smaller companies to determine their potential?

Our relationship there is multi-fold. It’s trying to help us solve business problems that our large clients have. So taking a problem and giving it to our hub team, our d {} team, and actually figuring out, how do we bring that out? It’s talent acquisition. Because we’re at the Hub, the university grads out of Waterloo and some of the other universities in the area say, “Hey, I want to go work on digital for Deloitte,” because they see the kinds of things that we’re doing. We’re also sensing the new technologies to say, “How do we either actually acquire them or bring them out to our clients?” So all three of those areas are part of our strategy.

You went through the Engineering program at the University of Waterloo. So you’ve seen that tech scene from both sides now, so to speak, when it was RIM and how Waterloo was before the year 2000 tech bubble collapse. How would you describe the relative health and structural integrity of the tech ecosystem now compared with that time?

I think it’s pretty solid now. There are so many good companies coming out through the university programs, the Velocity program, coming up through the Communitech Hub. But I really am excited about the collisions between the large corporates that are collaborating with start-ups. Because that, I think, is what will accelerate our business community. Every time I go across the country, the start-ups tell me they don’t have a problem really in finding money. What they have a problem with is finding clients that’ll be the early adopters, and especially finding Canadian clients. They can actually sell in Europe, sell to France, sell to Israel, faster than they can sell to Canada.

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