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Kevin Peesker
Kevin Peesker
President - Microsoft Canada

Driving Canadian Tech Competitiveness

Published on

Listen to the Podcast:

Takeaways

  1. There are over 36,000 technology firms in Canada creating more than 1 million jobs and investing approximately $5 billion annually into research and development.
  2. Big Tech can help grow the Canadian technology ecosystem by providing young leaders with the skills they need; upskilling the current workforce; and reskilling job seekers.
  3. Corporations must position themselves to modernize with speed and agility as services and platforms go virtual.

Action

Canadians should appeal to their provinces to streamline our healthcare system. By adopting new technologies and improving virtualization, the healthcare system will be more comforting, engaging and efficient.


What drew you to take on the role of Chair at TECHNATION? 

I have 30 years of experience in the tech industry, and the past eight years I have been active with TECHNATION. I started out as a tech leader that joined the association, I then became a board member, an executive committee member and now I have been Chair for the last couple of years. 

It has been amazing and unbelievably rewarding to see what can be accomplished when we all work together towards a common goal, and when we share best practices and advocate with other leading organizations and with government. 

Specifically, I am super passionate about the role of technology in driving Canada’s digital economy. We have over 36,000 technology firms in this country who generate over 1 million jobs, and as a body we invest more in research and development—approximately $5 billion annually—than any other private sector group. Therefore, when it comes to my role in the industry, being a proponent for the technology sector, there is no better place to be aligned than to be aligned with TECHNATION.  

“We have over 36,000 technology firms in this country who generate over 1 million jobs, and as a body we invest more in research and development—approximately $5 billion annually—than any other private sector group.”

There is a fundamental belief that the tools and the services we develop and produce in our industry can significantly improve the competitiveness of Canadian companies, but they can also enhance the quality of our communities, and that is why I volunteer my time and my energy. 


Canada is ranked twenty-second globally on the Bloomberg innovation list and twenty-first as a technology adopter according to the World Economic Forum. What worries you about Canada’s competitiveness in technology? 

All members of TECHNATION are intrinsically aligned to a premise that tech adoption is key to driving our digital economy forward. For organizations to remain competitive, not only against each other within the Canadian ecosystem but more importantly at a global scale, the numbers that you shared are frightening.  

The view from the World Economic Forum and the United Nations is deeply concerning, not just to me as the leader of Microsoft Canada or the Chair of TECHNATION, but also as a proud Canadian citizen and a father. I do not think Canada should rank outside of number 1 in anything—that is just my own pension for the belief in this nation and the capability of our people. 

Government and organizations like Microsoft are making significant investments in technology in Canada, and a great example is artificial intelligence. Canada is ranked among global leaders in terms of talent and capabilities. We have great minds like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and others; universities like the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, and the University of Montreal that are doing fundamental, ground-breaking research. And, we have had this bloom in startup ecosystems across the country—which is amazing—starting with MaRSInvest OttawaElement AIAmii, and LE CAMP in Quebec City. As a country, we have significantly enhanced investments in skilling both at the government level and at the industry and academic level. And while we have done a lot, I believe our global competitors are doing more. 

We rank third in creating AI, and we are ranked ninth out of 10 in adopting AI. It is really clear that organizations who embrace the power of the cloud, data and AI are more likely to grow and be competitive globally, and quite frankly, as we have seen over the last few months, be more agile in transforming and responding to disruption. Our CEO, Satya Nadella said he has seen two years of digital transformation in two months, and he is seeing that right here in Canada. Organizations that had adopted cloud technologies have been much better positioned to be successful.  

“We rank third in creating AI, and we are ranked ninth out of 10 in adopting AI.”

I recall a year ago saying that the future is now in the sense that we must either transform as Canadian companies and government, or we will be transformed—and that reality really became clear and apparent over the past seven months. 


TECHNATION works closely with government to drive more modernized, agile, and accessible procurement for the small-and medium-sized enterprise.  

What is Big Tech’s role in Canada in terms of enabling small- and medium-sized enterprise growth and economic recovery post COVID-19? 

In our nation’s digital economy as a whole, the key to small businesses succeeding, growing, and morphing into larger organizations that play on the global stage is really skilling. With all of the digital transformation and the need for digital skills that we have had in the past, the need in the future is even greater.  

We have talked about the skilling component before. TECHNATION has been a core advocate for skilling at a national level, and Microsoft is participating here as well. Recently, in a KPMG survey, 85% of CEOs are placing more capital investments in purchasing new technology versus 67% at a global level. However, when it comes to skilling, 16% of Canadian CEOs are placing more capital investment in developing tomorrow’s workforce skills and capabilities, which is less than half of the rest of the world.  

When you ask what else government and Big Tech could be doing, there is a phenomenal opportunity here, both from a government perspective but also in partnership with other leaders like Dave McKay at RBC, who believe that driving our capability of small firms relies upon talent and getting our young people employed with practical experience.  

From a Microsoft perspective, we are focused on three key areas. First, providing our young people and future leaders with the skills they need. Second, upskilling those currently in the workforce, and then third, reskilling job seekers who are looking for a role in this growing ecosystem of technology. When we move forward and accomplish those actions, we are going to be able to better support the capabilities and the scale out of our companies in the Canadian ecosystem to help take them global. 

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What are the biggest tech trends and opportunities Canada should focus on in the next 12 to 18 months, and what role should TECHNATION be playing? 

I have met many leading CEOs in this country who really do get it. Great examples would be Roy Gori at Manulife, Bharat Masrani at TD, Mark Little at Suncor, Donald Lindsay at Teck, Linda Hasenfratz at Linamar, and Guy Cormier at Desjardins, coast-to-coast large organizations, and then those Canadian companies like Mike Wessinger at PointClickCare who have fundamentally gone global. They get it when it comes to the criticality of tech intensity within their organizations.  

What I am seeing when I engage with these leaders and when we are speaking with small, medium and large businesses and governments of every shape and form, is that there are a couple of core trends that exist right now. Number one, a trend that has been going on for quite some time, has been organizations getting themselves into a position to be able to modernize with speed and agility.  

One of the core ways that they have been undertaking that has been by moving into cloud-related infrastructures or cloud software applications—so infrastructure as a service and software as a service. Now this trend line has been going on for a while and it has accelerated rapidly in the last year-and-a-half to two years, but it is still nascent in terms of the actual impact.  

When I look at other countries outside of Canada—the government in the UK, the Australian government, financial firms in Japan, France, Germany—there is a massive effort globally going into providing a platform for modernization. 

The second component—which most organizations are truly trying to get a handle on—is this thing called data, which we have been talking about forever. But it is one thing to talk about it and it is another to do it. It is akin to someone trying to get fit by watching someone else go to the gym. You actually have to participate, right? When it comes to data, this view that data comes before the modernization of applications—and that those applications take advantage of the power of platform technologies, which provide for predictive analytics, the next best action, enhanced customer engagement, and a streamlining process within a firm—I am seeing those two become key, paramount trends. 

The third one of course is super obvious—and we are going to see it a lot more—it is the virtualization of everything. If there is something that would be my plea to Canadians across the country, it would be to demand of your province—every province across the country, because we are decentralized in health—that we think about the engagement with our health system in a different way.  

“If there is something that would be my plea to Canadians across the country, it would be to demand of your province that we think about the engagement with our health system in a different way.”

The private firms do really good work with the next best doctor and visits that are remote from someone’s home, but that can be done at scale, and the efficiency of our healthcare system at province-wide levels can not only help us diagnose and catch the existing or emerging issues early in the cycle, but it can streamline and give every Canadian a better sense of comfort. Comfort that they can engage with a doctor without having to take hours out of their workday and without having to go into an environment that may have other infected people; to be able to have a dialogue with their doctor in a streamlined way to enhance the efficiency of our medical system. There is so much we can do in that regard as a country. 


Kevin, great points and really great insight. Thank you for speaking today, it is always fun. 

Thank you for the work you are doing to support the technology ecosystem of Canada, to ensure that our government understands the importance of this industry to all 37 million plus Canadians, and to ensure that we are leading with diversity and inclusion.  

We are building skills across the ecosystem; we are giving young people the opportunity to have real world experiences; we are building the capability set of Canadians across small to large organizations, and supporting the economy of this country. 

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Kevin Peesker
Kevin Peesker
President - Microsoft Canada

Bio: Kevin Peesker is the President of Microsoft Canada and the Chair of TECHNATION’s National Board of Directors. He is responsible for leading Microsoft’s team in delivering transformative outcomes for individuals nad organizations across Canada. He has more than 28 years of experience in technology and has worked in over 70 countries. He holds an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. 

 

Organization Profile: Microsoft Canada was established in 1985 as a Canadian subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., a worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help companies and people increase their productive capacity and innovate in new ways. Microsoft is headquartered in Mississauga and has nine regional offices across the country.