Canada trails Europe and U.S. when adopting tech, says Amazon Canada exec

TORONTO — Canadian businesses are slower to adopt new technology than their European and American counterparts, according to Canada’s head of Amazon Web Services.

The e-commerce giant has noticed it takes more education and convincing to get Canadian firms to embrace the industry’s latest advancements, Eric Gales, country manager of Amazon’s cloud-computing subsidiary AWS told The Canadian Press.

“The U.K. is very competitive because the whole country is just that much more dense, so that has a function in driving things like adoptions,” said Gales, who moved to Canada in 2006 from the U.K. and spent 13 years working for Microsoft before joining Amazon. “Here, we find adoption rates of new technologies are generally a bit slower.”

He’s noticed that by the time a typical business in Canada adopts a product, the next version or feature with enhanced capabilities is already available because someone else pushed for it previously.

The disparity stems in part from what Gales considers to be an “old model” of business, where quick adoption was mainly the privilege of companies who could afford to make large investments in platforms and features that would grow their business and help them beat competitors.

As technology gets cheaper, more companies can afford to indulge in the latest gadgets and software, breaking down the gap between the “haves and have-nots.”

But not all companies have seized the opportunity, so Gales said Amazon is “spending a lot of time and energy on helping customers appreciate what’s possible” and dispelling the “complicated” and “scary” reputation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

It takes more than just name-dropping big American or European brands that have latched onto new technology to get Canadian companies to follow suit, he added.

“The customers I meet with want to know about Canadian examples (because) those Canadian examples generally act as the beacon, the signal that it’s okay to move forward.”

That means he’s talking a lot about Vancouver-based athletic apparel company Lululemon, which adopted AWS products after finding its own system was too costly and slow. Similarly, National Bank of Canada’s global equity derivatives group looked to AWS when its hardware and databases couldn’t keep up with growth.

Gales is not the first to assert that the Canadian business community’s adoption of technology can be slow.

In April, a Dell and Intel-backed study from research firm PSB revealed 35 per cent of Canadians thought the technology they had at home was more advanced than what their office was outfitted with.

Long before that, industries were bemoaning how the country constantly lags behind, but that isn’t the case in every sector, said Rafik Loutfy, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Canada has been on track with financial technology, automotive, processing and aerospace technology, but retail hasn’t fared as well, he said.

“Look what happened to Eatons and Sears (Canada),” Loutfy said of the chains that filed for bankruptcy, shuttering their department stores across Canada. “Both were slow to adopt e-commerce.”

That same reluctance can trickle down to consumers, he said, noting that some Canadian start-ups struggle to find customers at home and have to resort to earning 80 to 90 per cent of their profits from American buyers.

“We tend to be more conservative in Canada than in the U.S. and in England and then we fall behind and it costs us.”

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