Leveraging Quebec’s Digital Tech Expertise to Benefit Local SMEs
Guy Parent is the General Manager of Opimian. In the past 15 years, he has held executive positions with professional associations as varied as those representing university alumni, engineers, and insurance brokers. He served as the General Manager of Regroupement des cabinets de courtage d’assurance du Quebec (RCCAQ), the province’s professional association of insurance brokerage firms.
Opimian is Canada's largest private wine club. Every year it offers its members the chance to discover over 500 exclusive wines from boutique wineries all over the world.
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1- Considering the level of tech and AI expertise found in Quebec, the province’s SMEs should benefit from more digitalization guidance in order to compete globally. The Quebec Government and tech companies need to play a larger role in ensuring entrepreneurs and SMEs are equipped with the right digital toolkits to stay competitive and advance Quebec’s economy.
2- To be competitive in the digital era, we must look beyond Quebec’s major metropolitan areas and develop the necessary infrastructure to provide high-quality digital connectivity and services in all regions.
3- Traditional companies interested in digital transformation often have little understanding of what new digital tools can do for their business. Government must provide assistance on this front and must also design a simpler path for SMEs to apply for digital transformation grants in Quebec.
Artificial intelligence is the fourth industrial revolution, so we need to embark on it and fast. However, to do so, we must offer the best digital infrastructure at the lowest price to help SMEs anywhere in Quebec to compete on the world stage.
What is Quebec doing right and what should it be doing differently in terms of the digitalization of its economy?
Considering the high level of tech and AI expertise found in the province, Quebec’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) should definitely benefit from more digitalization guidance in order to compete globally. But we’re not there yet. For many SMEs outside of Quebec’s main cities, their online presence and operations are slowed down due to the lack of proper infrastructure. In March 2018, the IRIS Study Group released a report stating that around 340 000 family homes – approximately 10% of Quebec’s population – do not have access to quality internet service. Imagine losing clients to an accounting firm across the world because your online presence is non-existent.
So, first and foremost, if we want to be competitive in the digital era, our tech leadership has to be extended beyond Quebec’s major metropolitan cities and we must develop the necessary infrastructure and toolkits to provide high-quality digital services to all regions.
What policies and programs should the government put in place to assist SMEs to digitalize their business?
The government does provide a lot of investment and grant support to incentivize businesses to kickstart their digital transformations. But the processes in place to acquire the funding are painfully complicated and nebulous.
Grant applications need to be clear and simple. Contrary to large enterprises equipped with lawyers and accountants, a small business owner doesn’t have the human capital or resources to go through endless procedures, paperwork and bureaucracy. It is a necessity to design a simpler path for SMEs to apply for digital transformation grants in Quebec.
Should the government play a role in encouraging tech companies to help improve the competitiveness of companies in Quebec’s other sectors?
In my experience, neither the government nor tech companies reached out to Opimian. I reached out to them. This should be reversed. But it is a challenging collaboration to push forward because both tech companies and the government don’t speak the same language as the traditional workforce. Digital transformation is intimidating for many entrepreneurs, even for some born in the era of computers and social media. As an accountant, I am privileged to have been introduced to the computer world. But it’s not the case for many in my professional network. Many entrepreneurs in my age group run their businesses without fundamentally understanding any of the digital tools available to them. It’s really not easy for them to adapt.
Therefore the government and leading tech companies should certainly play a role in guiding our economy and our entrepreneurs through the digitalization process. We need them to translate the benefits of digitalization for traditional business leaders because those that invest in digital transformation often have no real understanding of what the new tools can do for them. This hurts our economic competitiveness. If we don’t empower our leadership and workforce by nurturing digitalization locally, regionally and nationally, we will fall behind globally. Fifteen years ago, competitors were the shops found on the next block. Now, competition has almost no geographic boundary.
What is your experience with your owndigitalization at Opimian? How is the process improving your operations?
We are still in the beginning of our digitalization process. Opimian has been operating for more than 45 years. For the past 10 years, it never even came to mind to invest in any digital system. When I started here, we were one of the biggest wine club networkers and we gathered people together through word of mouth, referrals, events, and by hosting golf tournaments. The way of doing business had not changed for the past 20, 25, 30 years. Obviously, the way people connect today is completely different. Although wine can’t be digitized, if we want to remain in the networking business, we have to follow the crowd online.
Before we used to define our target clients through marketing studies and we then developed communication materials that catered to their needs. Today, we have the ability to identify our target markets at incredible speed and analyze digital data accumulated through online marketing tactics. Businesses have access to peoples’ pockets, bags and attention 24/7. That’s powerful reach for any entrepreneur.
What business objectives do you seek to achieve through your digitalization process?
Right now, the average age of our members is 57 years old. With digitization, we’re seeking to attract and understand a younger target market. The question is, how do we attract a younger generation to embrace wine club networking events? Our team is passionate about finding the answers through our digital transformation. We want to know what tools are available to discover and reach this target audience, and equip ourselves with the right skills to continue to evolve at a fast pace. Of course, our digital transformation changes the way Opimian has operated for almost 50 years now. But it’s surprising how exciting the discussion and discovery phase has been. I would think any passionate entrepreneur would want to know and be able to connect with his or her audience.
Another priority is creating the same sense of connection we achieved among our members prior to the digital age. We want to learn how to create a meaningful conversation that impacts our audience. Attracting new members in more niche and themed approaches are goals we want to pursue as well. For example, doing wine tasting after a day of trekking. The idea would be to creating events that cater to our members’ hobbies.
I imagine the information our members will share with us will be similar to before, such as their hobbies, preferences for days out, and others. This information will just be packaged and delivered differently, and it’s a matter of understanding the new flows of information. We are in the process of digitization, but if local tech leaders were to offer guidance, we would be more than happy to receive it.