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- SMEs in Canada have been slower to adopt technology compared to larger businesses, which makes for unpreparedness when crises such as the pandemic hit.
- Canadian businesses must reach out to their customers and gather their information in a regulated way in order to gather key data for the transition towards a more digital economy.
- For Canadian companies to succeed, they need to not only establish a digital presence, but also make sure they can be found in the digital marketplace.
The last mile for Canadian businesses is the adoption of technology, especially for smaller businesses. Government and industry must step in to assist with the adoption process to help businesses get value out of technology and help them through the transition to a more digital economy.
What was Moneris’ role in Canada’s rapid transition to online transactions and what best practices should SMEs look at for adopting technology?
Moneris has every kind of customer—large and small retailers but also service providers and professional services. Every type of customer had a slightly different need as the pandemic came upon us. For the customers we already had, if they were not yet online, what they needed was help to very quickly establish an online presence, at least to get referrals and orders, but hopefully, to actually capture orders, sales, and shipment options immediately online. We launched Moneris Online for this. We had different capabilities already, but what small businesses needed in particular was a complete solution end-to-end. They needed to be able to create a website, establish what is on the website, what is in the shopping cart, and make sure they could collect payments and do so safely.
For those customers, we accelerated the launch of Moneris Online with a knitted-together set of services including logistics—we can help you ship your product. For many customers, they did not know how much business they would get and they did not want to sign up for something massive or do as much revenue share that is required by some of the big, well-known providers. This was a way for companies to establish themselves online and get a fair deal for how they would sell online and make sure that they were safe and secure. That was the first thing we had to do.
There were also other customers that were already online. They may have had a physical store as well. In order to expand their services, what they needed was to be able to enhance the shopping cart and put more products into that shopping cart than they were able to in the past. They needed extra security and fraud protection, because not only were Canadians shopping online, there was also a big shift by bad actors to try to commit fraud online. We had to very quickly help our customers protect themselves from that kind of risk.
“Companies want a unified commerce experience across their instore and their online presence.”
The third area where there is ongoing need is for customers that have both online and face-to-face or in-store services. They do not want to have a set of services for one and a different set of services and vendors for the other. Companies want a unified commerce experience across their in-store and their online presence. We launched Moneris Go: it is a cloud-based point of sale capability that helps them create that combined view.
Every business was a little different. Large businesses that were online and had in-store presence needed curbside delivery capability, which is a hybrid of e-commerce. It allows the customer to order online, but the business needs to be able to create the physical delivery when the customer identifies themselves, pulls up to the curb, and takes their delivery.
There were many challenges and many things we had to do. It was an extremely busy time for us, yet we successfully helped many Canadian businesses transform their business to make sure they were as ready as possible for the new environment that we are working in.
Why is it important to invest in platforms that drive the acceleration of technology in Canada?
The marketplace initiative that TECHNATION has created is a critical portion of what a business needs to consider as they are trying to get online. Just because you create a website and a great experience on your website, does not mean that you will be found. You are attacking the very challenge that many small businesses discovered and that we ourselves have identified, where once we help this customer get all the way to a nice, unified online experience, they still need marketing, connections, and to be part of a network. The marketplace initiative is a way for them to very quickly become part of a network where other players will go to look for the services they need and find a Canadian business. They may not have found this Canadian business if they were not part of this network.
We provide a lot of education, and TECHNATION is also a huge provider of education when it comes to technology for business. We advise that companies have to make sure that they are leveraging their presence online and reaching as broad an audience as possible. That means that you need to start considering what kind of search you are engaged in and whether you are getting the right hits when somebody searches for the services that you provide. You need to start collecting your own customer information and contact information in a regulatory and responsible way, and we can advise on that and there are lots of other players that can help you. You have to be able to reach out to your customer, whether by email, within an app, or other ways of broadcasting, and you need to be found by people looking for your services.
“Companies have to make sure that they are leveraging their presence online and reaching as broad an audience as possible.”
All of these are challenges. A small business that was only accustomed to managing a physical storefront, or office if they are a professional service, now needs to consider that while they are not getting street traffic anymore or having people go to the local mall to find the businesses or service that they need, people are going online, and so you need to be found online. All of these are options for you to be found and for you to conduct the new digital marketing that is going to be an important part of your business model going forward.
What actions should leaders in the tech sector take to improve the representation in executive and board positions?
I am going to start with the government program that we have all undertaken, which is the 50-30 commitment. The reason I would start with that is because the industry has to commit to making change. By adopting that commitment, each company can start to build the pipeline of talent that they will be hiring and that they will be moving through the ranks of their organizations to create that diversity over time. It never happens overnight; you have to build the pipeline up first. If each company commits to doing that, that is a great contribution that the Canadian government has made to the initiative. I originally came out of the financial services sector and later evolved to fintech, but the financial services sector committed quite a long time ago to increasing diversity and inclusion. My career is a result of larger contributors to that industry making a commitment and helping ensure that I had opportunities along the road. I obviously had to have the education, to work hard, and create different steps for my own career path, and that is what every individual needs to do, but the tech sector needs to start to build up their pipelines. They are doing that now, but the tech sector has far to go to create the pipelines of talent that are going to be needed for each level in an organization.
“Being known as an entrepreneur that comes from an underrepresented community allows the industry to accelerate your progress.”
To the earlier point we discussed about having to be found, if you are an entrepreneur and you are part of an underrepresented community, then you also need to be found. If you participate in some of these marketplaces, then being known as an entrepreneur that comes from an underrepresented community allows the industry to accelerate your progress and therefore, accelerate the presence of underrepresented communities into having equal representation in the community. You need to be known, you need to be found, and the organizations need to invest in these people as well, to help create the balance that we are all looking for when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
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What must Canadian tech stakeholders do to improve Canada’s global position in tech?
In terms of Canada’s global position as a tech leader, first of all, we do have great education. We also have a lot of great innovation in Canada in our universities, and if you have had a chance to tour some of the amazing capabilities of our universities, you will realize that we are creating technology that the rest of the world really needs. What is missing is that last mile between where the technology has started to become more ubiquitous that people want to use it, and getting it in place, implemented, and applied at different levels of the economy. I am not sure what the real obstacles are there, but we have the capability to get that last mile of technology adoption implemented because that is when you transform the culture and the economy.
“What is missing is that last mile between where the technology has started to become more ubiquitous that people want to use it, and getting it in place, implemented, and applied at different levels of the economy.”
If you have great ideas and they sit on the shelf, or you export those ideas to somebody else to implement, then you are not getting the full benefit of what you have invented. Take what you have invented and turn that into solutions that solve business problems, which has a bigger gap than consumer problems. Canadian consumers are very good adopters of technology. When it comes to payment technology, Canada has been at the leading edge of payments adoption or technology adoption. Canadians are ready to do it but it is has been slower for businesses—not so much large businesses because they will make the investment and make sure that they have what they need when it comes to technology—but Canadian SMEs have been slower to adopt the technology that they need. That is why many of them were really under the gun when the pandemic hit, because they had not made that last-leg investment in how they were going to reach their customers.
What we need to do as an industry, as government, and as TECHNATION is we need to help businesses adopt technology and close the gap between where they are today and their customers in order to truly get the value out of the technology and make it ubiquitous across the economy. That is when we will see big differences in the way the economy operates. The operating models of some businesses will transform dramatically, and we will start to see the momentum build for technology to cascade throughout the economy.