Canadian businesses not ready for tech change


TORONTO, Ontario—A new study by Deloitte has found that most Canadian companies aren’t prepared for how quickly they’ll be affected by major advances in technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

The Canadian arm of the international consulting firm says only 13 percent of the 700 companies in its study scored well, while 87 percent were partially or completely unprepared for the magnitude and speed of change ahead.

In fact more than one-third—35 percent—scored poorly on all four of the key criteria that Deloitte used to measure preparedness: awareness, innovation, agility and the ability to channel resources.

The study’s findings are consistent with other Deloitte research on Canadian productivity, said Terry Stuart, a co-author of the 42-page report released Tuesday.

“Canadian companies are generally risk-adverse,” Stuart said in an interview ahead of the study’s publication.

“They’re not investing as much as they need to in the technologies and capabilities and we’re seeing that applied directly in these technology areas that we studied.”

The study was especially interested in how Canadian companies were responding to five types of technology with the potential to cause widespread disruption to what has become the usual manner of doing business: robotics, artificial intelligence, communications networks, manufacturing tools such as 3D printers and platforms for collaboration.

Although many of these technologies have been around for decades, they had been advancing at a relatively slow pace—which Deloitte expects will surge exponentially in the very near term.

“Disruption is not going to happen in some distant future. It is happening now,” the study concludes.

Stuart, who is Deloitte Canada’s chief innovation officer, said the majority of companies in the study weren’t spending enough time thinking about the new technologies, understanding them and preparing for the implications.

“There was no difference between industry segments or size of company. That was a little bit surprising to us,” Stuart said.

But the study did find 74 percent of the most prepared companies had experienced revenue growth over a five-year period, much higher that among unprepared companies.

The most prepared companies were also spending more on research and development over sustained periods and were more internationally focused.

Stuart said the underlying causes for the Canadian caution on tech are complex and there is a role to be played by the academic and government sectors, although the main audience for the study is business leaders.

“You have to look at a variety of factors. They way that our culture has grown up, how we’re educated and trained, et cetera.”