Brought to you by VANTIQ
Episode 24
Perspective from Silicon North
Tony Olvet, head of research at IDC Canada, shares his perspective on how the Canadian IT market is similar to – and different from – it’s US counterpart.
Chief Marketing +

Product Officer, VANTIQ
Group VP of Research at IDC Canada

Blaine: Welcome to 2019 and a new season of The Real-Time Enterprise channel on VANTIQ TV. No doubt, it will be an enjoyable and challenging year ahead at the intersection of business and technology. Joining me today is Tony Olvet, the Group Vice President of research at IDC Canada. Hi Tony!

Tony: Hi Blaine!

Blaine: It’s really great to have you. Now of course,IDCis one of the most well-known analysis and advisory firms in the technology business. And Tony’s had a long career there starting as an analyst and working his way up to managing all the analysts across all the research domains in Canada at IDC.

Now, if you’re following the VANTIQ TV episodes, you will have seen a recent episode featuring Shawn Fitzgerald, head of the digital transformation practice at IDC in the US. Definitely check it out if you missed it. The focus of my discussion with Tony will be, “What is going on at the intersection of business and technology particularly in Canada and the ways that it is similar and maybe different from what is going on in the US.”.

For those that might not be aware, I, your humble host, am in fact a Canadian. I can prove it by my jacket that I’m wearing. We’ve got a special Canada episode here. Coming home with Tony.

This episode marks not only the beginning of 2019, but the beginning of a bit of an international push for VANTIQ TV. Through 2019, expect to see many more international guests, gurus, experts, and practitioners from around the world. Having said that, let’s get started, Tony.

Tony: Sounds good. I’m happy to be here. This is an exciting format.

Blaine: Thank you. Thank you so much!

Tony: And I love the jacket.

Blaine: Ah thank you! And I know I showed you that jacket before at a conference we were at in Montreal last year and everybody got a big kick out of it. What I need is a jacket that’s actually half Canadian flags and half American flags. That would be probably the ultimate jacket. That would be my next upgrade.

So why don’t you start telling us more about IDC, but specifically, why does an IDC Canada exist and what’s special or different about what IDC Canada is all about?

Tony: Yeah sure happy to. We’ve been serving the tech industry and end users here since 1984. As you might know, IDC has been around in the US since ’64 but we established a presence and have grown our business quite substantially over the last few decades.

We have a mix of business. Part of our business, in fact the majority, is advising vendors on tech trends, marketing, sales, and so forth, but also growing business to end users who are looking to implement technology and understand what’s next. What are some of the risks and implications? What are some of the trends that they need to take a look at?

We established a great team here. I enjoy the benefit of having a senior team of analysts. We also have support from our consulting group and sales so it’s a great company. Everything’s changing in this industry, as you know, Blaine. So, we enjoy that change in that environment of fast-paced business here in Toronto, covering all of Canada.

Blaine: Perfect. Fantastic. Tell us a little more about how you got to where you are today. What’s your backstory?

Tony: The backstory goes way back when I was doing my master’s paper at the University of Torontolooking at the role of intermediaries in the technology sector. I focused specifically on value-added resellers. Somebody I met at a conference said, “Why don’t you go to IDC Canada? They do a lot of research on VARS, on value-added resellers.” I had a meeting with one of the VPs and got some data. That really helped with my research paper and I finished it off.

Actually, the day of my graduation after having lunch with my parents, I went over to the job board at U of T and there was a contract position for IDC. It was almost written for me and I thought, “If I can’t nail this, I don’t think I’ll get a job anywhere.” Long story short, I’m still here. It’s been a great ride. I joined the year Netscapewent public. Windows ninety five launched in sort of the dawn of the commercial Internet. It was a pivot point in the industry, so I’ve seen a lot of change over the years.

Blaine: Fantastic. Really interesting. Full disclosure to our listeners and viewers, Tony and I worked together on a project when I was working for a large vendor in Canada back in the early 2000s. You were obviously earlier in your career and so was I, in fact. That was so, so long ago, but we engaged in a very successful, major project together and that’s how we first met. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years now.

What particularly excites you about what’s going on these days at the intersection of business and technology in Canada?Maybe, if you want to talk about some of the interesting projects you or your team are working on, that would be cool.

Tony: There’s two or three really interesting areas that I’ve been able to touch on and it’s going to expand our research. Obviously, our whole body of work around digital transformation, that’s been an ongoing focus for IDC globally and in Canada for the last three or four years.

I know you talked to Shawn Fitzgeraldalready and in Canada, we’ve been looking at the progressive Canadian organizations around DX. You saw the presentation at that conference a few weeks ago. We can talk a little bit about that. That’s an ongoing monitoring of where Canadian organizations are, what’s the progress, what are some of their goals, and what are some of their challenges, frankly.

But also, more forward looking work around 5G. 5G wireless is going to change the tech and business sector. That’s going to be a very interesting space to watch for quite a while. This is not like an overnight sensation. The carriers are building out their networks now, but there’s lots more to happen in the next two to three years before we really go commercial in Canada.

Finally, I guess the intersection of a whole bunch of different technologies brings to life this notion or the concept of the future of work. We’re actually hosting a conference with ITAC, our partner, the Information Technology Association of Canada, January 30th in Toronto looking at the future of work. It’s a morning session and we have our global future of work analyst, Roberta Biglianijoining us from Europe. So, it’s gonna have an international perspective. We have panels and keynotes.

There’s so much to look at in 2019, in the year ahead. There’s lots of exciting projects.

Blaine: Interesting. A lot of those topics you touched on briefly I think have been reflected in a lot of my discussions with technology leaders and others in the US. Is there anything or are there any things different about what’s happening in Canada than what’s happening in the US? Do you perceive any differences or is Canada just a slightly smaller mirror of what’s going on in the US?

Tony: There are some differences and that’s one of the major roles that we play is helping our vendors/clients understand those differences because they’re often subsidiaries of U.S. firms. They’re given targets, quotas, and so forth.

One of the things that structurally or the economy as a whole is more dominated by mid-market or SMB-size organizations. You don’t necessarily have the same large-scale enterprises that the US enjoys. Hence, maybe the deeper pockets or that ability to scale up is more of a challenge for Canadian organizations.

The second thing to think about in the structure of the business is there are more subsidiaries of foreign-owned firms in Canada. Decision making isn’t necessarily 100 percent within their control.

Those are two things to really think about when you’re when you’re looking at the Canadian market: the lack of super large-scale enterprises and the fact that there’s more foreign-owned subsidiaries that dominate the Canadian market.

Blaine: And how do you think that plays itself out in terms of impact of how technology companies and vendors have to act and how decisions are made? Any thoughts?

I think there’s a little more conservativism, a bit of cautiousness in terms of adopting or leading with really leading-edge products or technologies. There needs to be a little more time to establish that credibility to show the business outcomes, proof points, whether it’s ROIs or other types of case studies and testimonials. That’s why I think you still see organizations gravitating to those case studies or conferences where peers get together.

We do a lot of work with the CIO Association of Canada. They’re all about networking with peers to understand, “What did you learn when you deploy this tool or this technology for such and such an application?”, or “How are you guys structuring your digital transformation office and what’s the government’s strategy?” Those are the types of things where we’re involved in those conversations, but we also help facilitate that networking through the associations and conferences.

Blaine: Makes sense. Having been somebody myself who’s worked in technology on both sides of the border, I absolutely agree with everything you said. Having said that, I wouldn’t want our listeners to think that the Canadian tech market is moving slowly.

And in fact, what I’ve seen attending and presenting at various Canadian technology conferences over the last couple of years, in fact the same conference a few years running now, is a dramatic acceleration in the embrace of Canadian companies as some of these interesting, transformative technologies. It’s actually been really impressive. I’m sure you’re seeing some of that as well.

Tony: Yeah we are. What I would characterize the progress or the maturity of organizations has moved a little bit slowly. But, where we are in Canada, the dominant model is it’s project-based rather than an enterprise, cohesive strategy from the top down.

I think the companies that really get it and are going to start pulling away from the pack and tend to have a centralized, cohesive enterprise strategyfor digital transformation or innovation, whatever language you wanted to use. Not enough companies in Canada, and I think it’s similar to other markets, have made that strategic, bold move.

There are risks. People start to measure and they are very vocal about their goals. If they fall down, maybe that doesn’t look so good on their resumé or on their annual review or on the front page of the national paper. That kind of thing.

Blaine: That’s really interesting. We talk about this topic a lot on VANTIQ TV.

I think of the notion of a big, strategic umbrella plan to get to drive toward overall, organizational transformation is very important. The failure mode to that is when they try to do too much all at once. On the other hand, I like the notion of a project-based approach because you can pick off something small, get it done, and execute on it, show some value, and then the next thing.

Tony: I agree with that. Yeah.

Blaine: I think you want to have both things working together. You want an overall vision, plan, and a framework, but you also want specific, clear-cut, actionable projects. Otherwise, you’re never going to get anywhere, right?

Tony: I absolutely agree with that. I think it is important to celebrate those small wins, learn, refine the process, and bring that knowledge and change management best practice into other parts of the organization. I don’t think anyone on the research or analyst side at IDC would say this happens in one or two years. In fact, I would think some of our Global advice is true digital transformation is close to a 10-year journey.

You look at it from different high-level strategies, programs, and then break it down into use cases. That’s actually one of the really compelling sets or bodies of research IDC has done over the last year and a half; breaking down use cases in functional areas or roles. That’s really helped both vendors understand, “I need to go down a layer and stop just talking about this one big topic called digital transformation. We need to actually look it at a program level, whether it’s omni-channel or e-commerce and breakdown what are the projects”.

It’s also helped end users to say, “Oh I see how other companies are doing it. At least it gives me a roadmap to think about the problem and the solution state.”

Blaine: Yeah right on. For those that missed my interview with Shawn Fitzgerald, again, we spent quite a bit of time talking about this. IDC actually has an incredible database of almost 800 use cases for digital transformation.

Again, under this large umbrella of, “Strategically, what’s your path toward digital transformation?” IDC has gotten right down to the very micro level. Whether you’re running a manufacturing organization or a field service organization, whatever your industry is in, they’ve got literally hundreds of specific use cases of things you could do to use technology to transform your company.

I highly recommend you take a lookat this if you get a chance because it’s a very valuable source. We use it at VANTIQ all the time, frankly, when we’re talking with clients.

Tony: Yeah I love to hear that endorsement. Just the fact that it’s being used in a practical sense is awesome.

Blaine: I guarantee it is. In fact, I would bet that VANTIQ is one of the most avid users of your database. So, good job, guys!

Blaine: So, now we segued into the discussion specifically on digital transformation. Any particular examples or good examples of companies in Canada that you think are undergoing an effective transformation?

There are a few. We’ve done some case studies on different projects. I’ve highlighted summaries of those at some conferences. There’s companies like Teknion, an office furniture manufacturer. Tridel, they do some smart buildings. I think one that’s probably more recognizable is Cirque du Soleil.

Blaine: I’ve heard of them. Yeah!

Tony: Yeah! They’re an entertainment company. They are known for their dazzling live shows and costumes. All of what they do, what’s embodied in their processes is innovation. They’ve actually built for innovation labs and they focus on different aspects of the business whether it’s set production, remote set production, their costumes, talent management, and the overall technology.

I was able to talk to their leader of one of the innovation labs. They were super excited about what they’re doing with virtual reality. They can build a setup of one of their facilities on the other side of the planet because these things are installed over a number of months and then they may stay in production for 18 months or something like that. It’s a big capital cost. They’ve been more agile by being able to build and almost sit in the seat of prospective customer as it would seem once it alive and they can change some of the aspects of that.

They’ve done that through remote solutions and been able to kind of virtually replicate what it’s going to look like. That helps them build a better design, massive cost savings, and it brings different stakeholders from across the international organization together, so there’s obviously basic cost savings for travel and things like that.

Blaine: It’s a really interesting example because Cirque de Soleil, of course, was basically a disrupter of the classic circus business model right from the get go. They were invented as a disruptor and now they’re a great example of a company that’s continuing to transform and disrupt itself. It would be so easy for them to rest and say, “Well we’re already doing something different. We’re good. We’re a leader. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.”.

But, as you said and I’ve read some of these case studies on Cirque de Soleil, they are absolutely not satisfied to stand still. And as you said, they’ve created these innovation labs across every area of their business. It’s just really a tremendous Canadian example of a company that is undergoing continuous transformation and continually, frankly, even disrupting itself. What a great example.

Tony: I think that’s one of the attributes that we’ve seen in our in our digital transformation work. Those leaders who are in the optimize state, they do not rest on their laurels. They continue to make sure that they’re ahead of the game. They’re creating new opportunities by being that much further ahead of the pack, if you will.

Blaine: Yep. Interesting. Well that’s great, Tony.

So, let’s shift toward one of my favorite areas of these discussions where I ask the guests, give the guests a chance to call bullshit on a particular area of conventional wisdom. What is sort of a commonly accepted belief or conventional wisdom where you say, “No. That’s just not accurate.”?

Tony: Well you know, everyone thinks that because I mean in Canada, it’s snowing all the time. No. [laughter] The weather here is very mild, especially right now in the last few weeks it has been mild.

Blaine: Okay, but Tony, it’s supposed to be at the intersection of business and technology! Try again.

Tony: Okay. To get down to business, I think one of the things that we hear a lot is “Canadian businesses are laggards”. I would agree that we are behind perhaps the U.S. market in the average Canadian business or that middle of the pack group of companies. People throw around 18 months behind; when a technology is adopted in the US, 18 months later it’s adopted here. That rule of thumb can be chucked out the window. I think what we have to recognize is there’s pockets of pretty advanced development and innovation. One to highlight would be artificial intelligence.

There’s a hotbed of startup and research organizations in Canada. There’s different pockets. There’s a cluster in Toronto. Geoffrey Hintonat U of T is leading the charge on a lot of that. If you mix that in with the growth of our metropolitan areas and the great research institutions, what we’re seeing is perhaps some of the most innovative work and nothing to do with the technology laggards.

I think one of the challenges, though, is connecting what’s happening in the research world with business problems of Canadian organizations. That’s where we do have challenges. Every vendor’s looking for a way to overcome that by providing more proof points, more business cases, being relevant and credible when it comes to solving problems, operational efficiency, some of the work that VANTIQ is doing.

Blaine: Yeah well that makes perfect sense. I’ve actually been reading a lot about how Montreal in particular has become a global leader in AI. Not just basic research on AI, but also applications of AI. A lot of AI machine learning related startups have been congregating in the Montreal area as well. Definitely another area where Canada is probably ahead of the pack.

Tony: Yeah exactly. I don’t want to say this is all about Toronto. There’s clusters of it in Alberta. You’re from Alberta originally, I believe.

Blaine: I am, yes!

Tony: And of course, Ottawa. There’s still a thriving tech community in Ottawa. We’re dominated by a few metropolitan areas compared to the US where there’s many, many more cities of medium size. We essentially have five or six major metropolitan areas.

Blaine: Yes and I’ll just throw out there the deep mind project, which originally beat the chess masters Garry Kasparov at chess, and then morphed into the go project was began at the University of Alberta, my alma matter. So, there you go, just to get some credit out there where credit is due.

So, thank you for that. Any technology or business predictions for 2019?

Tony: Yeah! We just did our predictions webcasttwo weeks ago, Lars Goranssonand I. It’s our most popular webcast of the year from the Canadian office. We cover 10 predictions. What we’ve done lately is go a little bit beyond the one year mark.

But, in terms of what’s happening in 2019, one of the hot trends that have risen rapidly for two reasons. One is the growth of IoT and field data. Our prediction is that 10 percent of organizations are going to start piloting edge computing architectures in Canada in 2019. That really has come up because the explosion and data.

We have a global data sphere project. The vast amount of data, not all of it needs to be processed back in the core at the data center. There’s so much happening at the edge.

It fundamentally changes how the IT department and their vendors look at the architecture of compute storage, processing, and analytics. It’s probably something that’s near and dear to your heart as well in terms of what you guys are doing.

Blaine: I absolutely agree. Fundamentally, this data which is being generated by IoT devices, enterprise systems, or people on mobile devices, cannot be all processed in one, massive cloud application, even with 5G helping to accelerate and speed it up. Absolutely I’m seeing exactly what you’re saying.

Edge computing is necessary for these new use cases, but it is still early days. It absolutely is early days. I think your 10 percent is probably a pretty good prediction.

Tony: We would say more mainstream adoption of edge would be sort of around 2021 or 22. That kind of dovetails with what’s happening with real 5G commercialization in Canada, likely not until late 2020. That’s going to create a whole bunch of new business models and opportunities to evolve and accelerate business transformation.

Blaine: Yeah, absolutely. It directly relates to the sort of overall theme of this series which is around creating the real-time enterprise. If you’re basing your enterprise, your transformation, on the notion of doing things in real time as the data is flowing, you’re going to have to be able to process that and do some of that work on the so-called edge or you’re not going to be a real-time business. That’s right on the money.

Any final takeaways or tips? Maybe let’s talk about technology vendors who are trying to help companies drive their real-time transformation. Any tips or takeaways for vendors overall?

Tony: I think one of the things that has become very evident in Canadian organizations is the vital importance of security. Cybersecurity is now a bordering topic. It has a lot more attention which means there’s more budget. There’s more expectations that security is going to be built into the solution that’s being deployed.

There’s advice for a vendor or buyers out there. Think about being very proactive about security. We believe it, by design, is good for business, kind of the same way as privacy. That’s a whole other topic you can you can have a webcast on, but security specifically.

The fact of the matter is that there’s so many opportunities for bad actors to penetrate systems that there has to be a plan in place. There has to be a focus and are you going to be doing it all yourself, or are you going to be looking at managed service providers around that? That’s actually one of our bigger predictions: the growth of managed services around securities is going to outpace security product purchases.

Blaine: Very interesting and makes perfect sense. I think that’s obviously good advice for both vendors and buyers. You’re right on the money. Well, I think that wraps it, Tony. Thanks so much for joining us today. It was a really interesting conversation!

Tony: Thanks, Blaine! Appreciate it.

Blaine: You’re welcome.

Those interested in hearing more of Tony’s thoughts can of course find him on LinkedIn. You can follow @tolveton Twitter. And of course, check out You can reach out to me anytime at [email protected]

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