“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
“My education background is Computer Science; at SIM, I study the intersection of people, information, and technology. This includes research challenges in using cloud computing, tool support for research dissemination and discovery, management of cloud-scale data, leveraging IT to meet research and educational needs, and enabling open data and data literacy.”
Dr. Mike Smit Associate Professor & Acting Associate Dean (Research)
School of Information Management, Dalhousie University
Dr. Mike Smit’s public lecture on October 11, 2017 at the Marriott Hotel, 100 Kent Street, Ottawa, addressed the implications of our evolving technology, once considered science fiction, upon our society, business and government. In a recent virtual interview with CFAME Connection, Dr. Smit provided a brief synopsis of his lecture:
We need to view artificial intelligence (AI) not as the villain in a sci-fi movie, which is where we tend to see AI most often, but as the next stage in the evolution of computer technology. While the bold promises of AI haven’t yet come to fruition, things that we now accept as common-place are key AI accomplishments: Netflix can recommend TV shows, Amazon can recommend books, Siri can talk to me and I can talk to ‘her’, and so on. So, if you think about AI as the next set of exciting new features, what will it be doing for us in the near future?
We are experiencing widespread adoption of machine learning; that is, how computers “learn” to perform tasks, like recognizing images or translating text. There are interesting applications that come out of this evolution that will influence our current reality. These applications will start with the usual targets for AI and automation: tasks that are dull, dirty, or dangerous; tasks that follow a certain pattern; tasks that require more precision than creativity.
AI is not yet ready to replace human choice for making life-impacting decisions about individuals, so we have to be careful about how we use it, and when we trust it. Algorithms can take existing bias in data and in society and magnify it, so understanding its capabilities and limitations is important for any organization interested in moving in this direction.
Michelle Hunter, an attendee at Dr. Smit’s lecture, was challenged and excited by the possibilities of AI.
We see the influences of AI everywhere we turn; the self driving car, the self check outs; phone apps, the downfall of Sears (attributed to on-line shopping). We are living in a society dependent upon technology: to access information, to connect with others, to purchase what we want and need in hopes of simplifying our busy lives.
Dr. Mike Smit’s insightful lecture emphasized that the enhancements, capabilities and availability of data storage sparked the unprecedented rapid advancements in AI. Dr. Smit’s engaging discussion enabled the audience to visualize the current and changing landscape of AI as well as the potential benefits and risks associated with AI advancements.
Dr. Smit argued that rapid development without consideration for regulations or policy around the use of specific AI advancements could potentially have adverse consequences. For example, the self driving car. If there was an accident involving a self-driving car; who would be at fault – the owner of the car or the manufacturer of the AI component? Dr. Smit noted that policy-makers will need to react quickly to rapidly developing AI technologies such as regulations surrounding the safe use of recreational drones. According to Dr. Smit’s research, there is only an 80% accuracy rate of some AI. His challenge: where and when is 80% accuracy acceptable.
Artificial intelligence will have a significant impact on our lives and decisions. We will need to acquire new skill sets and be ready to transition into innovative work that comes with the evolution of artificial intelligence. With new technologies also comes new opportunities. Our society must be prepared to change with these advancements.
“It is important to first realize that complex tasks cannot be completed by following a recipe or a set of instructions, or even an extensive list of rules and regulations.”
Rick Nason, It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business
In a recent post, Joyline Makani and Martine Durier-Copp stated that developing an adaptive mindset was a critical component of deeper learning. Rick Nason agrees, suggesting that the adaptive mindset is essential to succeed within our current environment that boasts an insatiable appetite for complexity. Rather than be discouraged by seemingly unmanageable problems, Rick believes that complexity can present advantages to the astute manager.
Rick Nason explains:
In a complex environment, it is truly rare that a grand plan or strategy will work as intended. Successful managers, however, are not discouraged by this. They learn from their missteps and use their learning to move forward with a new angle on the problem. They essentially learn as they go. Furthermore, they expect to learn as they go.
Complicated thinkers tend to get too intellectually invested in an idea and refuse to let go, despite sometimes overwhelming evidence that the plan is not working. Complexity thinkers have the humility and flexibility not to get trapped into this low-probability strategy. With a try, learn, and adapt approach, organizations have to allow for mistakes to be made and for risks to be taken. They do not take large bets on grand projects or get too invested in comprehensive plans. A key characteristic of complexity is adaption.
To succeed with complexity, an organization must also be continually adapting. It is important to note that this does not necessarily mean getting better or continually improving. It is quite possible to keep continually improving on all of the wrong things. Kodak continued to improve its film products, but when digital photos replaced film, all of the continual improvement was for naught.
Adapting means developing a keen sense of how elements of the system are changing and trying new ideas to see how they work in the context of shifting environment. Ultimately, adapting means changing along with the environment rather than trying to get the environment to change. (Excerpt taken from It’s Not Complicated – The Art and Science of Complexity in Business Pages 96 & 97)
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;”
Sea Fever, John Masefield
Food trends are difficult to follow these days. Just like hip sectors like tech, the food industry is coming up with its own peculiar lingo when describing market shifts.
One of the latest examples is “grocerant,” a word combining “grocer” and “restaurant.” The term has been around for a few years, but it seems to have gone mainstream in recent months. Or at least it’s a term most of us will be hearing more often.
But as trendy as it is, the term “grocerant” is also in fact quite relevant and accurately captures what is happening in the food industry these days. In short, a grocerant is a grocery store that sells prepared meals, to either eat on site or take home.
The numbers are staggering. According to NPD Group, a research outfit in the U.S., grocerants generated 2.4 billion new visits and over US$10 billion in sales in 2016 — a massive shift.
Efforts to offer more convenience are resulting in numbers not seen since the drive-through phenomenon several decades ago.
In Canada, while the numbers are little more obscure, we are seeing similar trends. Many retailers are on the move.
Given that convenience seems to have more currency than ever before, two worlds are currently colliding in the ready-to-eat space at grocery stores, which caters to people seeking portable solutions to accommodate their hectic daily lives.
Grocerants offer a one-stop-shopping solution for consumers driven by either curiosity or a lack of time. An increasing number of grocery stores now allow customers to buy and eat on the spot. Some stores in Canada and the U.S., including several independents such as Longo’s and even larger outfits like Loblaw, Sobeys and Metro, deftly merge both food retailing and food service under one roof.
Research suggests many consumers generally perceive grab-and-go food products to be healthier than meals you can get at a restaurant. This works well for grocers.
Price wars constitute the other driving issue for grocers. Over the last 15 months in Canada, food retail prices have barely moved. But the price of food purchased at restaurants has increased significantly, more than double the general inflation rate.
This would suggest that menu prices are much more immune to market cycles than retail food prices. Demand in food service is inherently more inelastic, so margins can be kept up and defended in most cases, no matter what the economy is doing.
But restaurants aren’t staying quiet in the face of this new trend. Restaurant operators are fighting back by using technology to their advantage. Many are responding by using UberEats and other food delivery services, even expanding their market by offering meal kits and developing new ways to reach consumers.
In other words, they are trying to go where the money is instead of just waiting for the consumers to come to them.
Some say it’s all about millennials. It is indeed about offering fresh, healthy, reasonably priced products for the largest generation that is slowly taking over the economy.
But the changes are more deep-rooted, beyond just millennials. Millennials certainly have the economic influence to trigger the changes we’re seeing, but many demographics are behaving differently around food.
Families with older children like the enhanced grocerant experience, while aging baby boomers need the convenience. The appeal is across the board. Millennials were the first generation not willing to settle for what was being offered to them by grocery stores. The rise of the grocerant represents the awakening of an industry that’s been complacent for quite some time.
In the realm of the convenience factor that’s a critical part of the grocerant movement, the ready-to-cook market is also emerging as an interesting opportunity, but not without some headaches.
In the U.S., Blue Apron, the largest and best-known meal-kit provider in the world, is waging an uphill battle. The company has just laid off six per cent of its staff and its stock has gone nowhere since going public in June.
On the other hand, we’re seeing evidence that grocers like what they see from meal-kit outlets. Plated, the five-year-old American meal-kit company, was acquired last month by the grocery giant Albertsons, for approximately US$200 million.
Grocers do have the capacity to cover a broader market with their product offerings, but have not yet made much of a play on meal delivery and quality.
Grocery chains, in fact, are often not hardwired to successfully meet new challenges. But that’s slowly changing. Metro made a significant move this year by acquiring Miss Fresh, and many expect other grocers to follow suit.
In processing as well, Campbell’s Soup, Unilever and many others are investing in meal kits to explore what could become a US$10 billion industry by the end of next year.
It’s all a growth opportunity that cannot be overlooked by grocers. They’ll need to hire the right people, with the right mindset, in order to capitalize on these new opportunities. And because of changing consumer expectations and behaviours, survival seems unlikely for stand-alone meal-kit outlets.
So the convenience food battle is alive and well. Grocers were losing for a while, but the emergence of grocerants across the country is a sign that the industry is listening to what the modern consumer is telling them.
The Class of 1999 was the first to cross the stage to receive the prestigious MBA(FS)degree. Eighteen years have passed and over 1,000 have graduated since that inaugural class. We hold a special significance for beginnings and for those individuals who were “there” when is all began.
Yvonne Thevenot, a graduate in the Class of 1999, is a role model, coach, mentor and relentless advocate when it comes to business effectiveness, change management and performance excellence. Her consulting practice draws on extensive first-hand experience in change management as a sponsor of change, business lead and change manager at both strategic and tactical levels. Expertise in business to business relationship management stems from her Prairies roots in agricultural lending and has extended through banking, wealth management, insurance – and more recently the hip-hop music industry as unpaid on-call support to her son’s burgeoning studio. With degrees from both the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University, her passion for learning contributes to professional designations as a Professional Agrologist, a Certified Financial Planner, a certified mentor and an accredited change manager from two different global organizations.
And what does she do for fun? Now that her children Shea and Jared have (mostly) moved out, Yvonne enjoys all types of sporting events, theatre, concerts and the best of what Toronto has to offer for entertainment. She participates on the board of global change management and mentoring associations and participates annually in raising funds for cancer research, with personal fundraising exceeding $50,000. Oh! And she loves her motorbike, even though she and her partner Ian do not spend as much time on them as they would like.
In a recent virtual interview, Yvonne reflects back to her MBA(FS) years.
How did the MBA influence my choices and decisions?
Whenever I am asked “What did you learn in your MBA?”, my response is always the same…. Time management! At the core of being successful in my MBA was learning how to juggle the course load of two programs (the Fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers as well as the MBA requirements), a developing career, a young family (my children were 10 and 5 at the time), and community involvement. I learned to choose how much time to spend on assignments and achieve satisfactory marks, how to choose activities with my children that were important to them and our relationship, and how to let go of things that perhaps really didn’t matter as much as I might have once thought.
How would you encourage others to seek more education?
Not only through my MBA, but also in other continuing education that I have pursued, I am an advocate for the incredible number of opportunities that exist out there. In today’s rapidly evolving world, education is critical to staying fresh and engaged. The choices of topics are wider than ever before and the methods for delivery can be suited to almost any lifestyle.
Many of our first graduates are retiring. How can we engage in life-long learning as we transition into a new reality?
Education comes in many forms. Life-long learning can be drawn from a more traditional academic setting; from ad hoc learning that can be gained from a conference, workshop or speaker; or one of my favorite ways – through mentoring. In particular, for people who have committed careers to an organization and are now transitioning to retirement, the choices are richer than ever before: take a class, sign-up for a guest lecture, or pursue mentoring relationships where you “gain” as much as you “give”.
How do you integrate creativity within a structured environment?
This is such an interesting question. Three recent items have reminded me how important creativity as part of the “full-brain” balance of a structured environment: 1. Through LinkedIn I recently connected with a fellow who integrates extensive experience in the theatre into his consulting engagements with business; 2. There is a change management workshop that uses Lego as its framework and learning tool; 3. I attended a brainstorming session with a major consulting firm where the vision board output was a collective mind-map of symbols and designs to capture the essence of the discussion in a vibrant and energetic way. These types of activities remind me that integrating creativity can be done easily and fluidly in almost any environment. Personally, I have used music, drawing, crayons and markers, various styles of brainstorming, games, and all sorts of “play” to integrate creativity…at the root of this though is key factors such as physical movement, the establishment of a safe learning environment, and being prepared to lead by diving in to get things started.
I am intrigued by blockchain. I push myself to use a digital payments card. I try to listen to as much new music as I do “oldies and goodies”. I hang out with people of all ages, all walks of life, extensive career paths, wide-ranging interests, and am curious and interested about their lives. I tap into others interests to help me see the world in new ways. My children have taught me about music, and computers, and pop culture, and new careers, and new ways of looking at the world and relationships and ideas. Every day is a surprise, and I try to approach it with that kind of an attitude of discovery and joy… and by trying – it pretty much always works out that way, so how cool is that?
Martine Durier-Copp, Director, Dalhousie’s Centre for Advanced Management Education (CFAME) will be hosting a Public Lecture and Wine & Cheese Reception
Thursday, November 30
Westin Hotel, Calgary, Alberta
Join Martine for a free and fascinating talk on one of today’s hottest topics.
From Artificial Intelligence to Biotechnology to Industry 4.0, a convergence of digital forces is transforming our world. Let Dalhousie’s Grant Sullivan show you how to successfully navigate the changes in society, business and government.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Laurence Binyon – September 1914
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
“Amazon is essentially about merchandizing convenience for all. Organics, meal kits, it’s all about convenience. For years, Walmart mastered the concept of simplicity in a big box store. On the other hand, Amazon is hedging against the indolent nature of mankind. And for that, it’s winning.”
Amazon is not wasting time. Speed of execution is at the essence of Amazon’s model. As soon as U.S. regulators approved its acquisition of Whole Foods, it announced that it would aggressively reduce the price of several organic staples in all of the 431 Whole Foods stores in America and Canada. Amazon’s playbook is about low margins and high-volume sales, for anything, including organics.
Technically, Whole Foods was in a free fall before its acquisition. Store traffic was shrinking, sales were sluggish and the company was having difficultly convincing shareholders that organic food sales are immune to economic cycles and pose a bright future for the company. Whole Foods reinforced the fact that organics were, for the most part, exclusive and for the elite. Organic groceries can cost consumers almost twice as much as conventional food products. Margins are also a sweet deal for grocers, as they can be as much as 5 times of what it would be for mainstream food products.
Amazon obviously knows all this and intends to make organics more affordable, more democratic. At the same time, it also expects to make a statement as a change-agent in groceries, putting everyone on notice. Slumping stock prices for main grocery chains in the U.S. show Amazon certainly has the market’s attention.
This is not the first time a giant food retailer attempts to make its mark in organics. Through its influential logistics, Walmart has made organics more affordable over the last decade or so, however with mixed results. When it committed to organics, Walmart wanted to offer well over 140 different organic products to its customers, but failed miserably. Walmart soon found out that the realities of organic farming make accessibility more challenging. Over the years, it adjusted expectations by offering fewer but cheaper products. Today, Walmart is now the largest seller of organic food products in America. Amazon, on the other hand, has Whole Foods, the Mecca of organic food retailing, giving it a huge advantage over Walmart. By acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon gave itself access to an incredible eco-system which includes well-established organic farms and wholesalers. Unlike Walmart, Amazon can execute its strategy almost instantaneously.
And so, it begins, but it remains unclear as to how all this will affect the Canadian organic market. Unlike in the U.S., food prices in Canada have started to rise again in recent months which has given grocers some well-needed breathing room. If anything, we could see organics go up in price due to Amazon’s willingness to make organics more appealing to American consumers. With higher demand south of us, procurement could become more challenging for main Canadian grocers, even if our currency remains strong against the greenback. With time though, as Amazon increases its footprint in Canada, this may all change.
The American food distribution landscape is much different, especially these days. With German-based Lidl and Aldi also expanding in the U.S., Americans may witness a continued food price war. Except for July, food prices have dropped for 18 months in a row, the longest stretch since the 1950s. Pricing always has a very direct short-term impact on profitability. Over time though, survivors are the ones able to absorb shocks coming from the competition. Since Amazon has never played the high-profit, high-dividend game, this is a non-issue for the company. But with organics, the Amazon-Whole Foods story will only make matters worse for Kroger and Cie. Convenience, for organics, is the primary factor, price is less so. The physicality of organic retailing coupled with online selling can only leverage Amazon’s position in the market place. The distribution story behind Amazon’s move on Whole Foods makes the online giant almost immune to any procurement challenges which is typical with organics.
Amazon’s next move could be with meal kits. For years, grocers have considered food service as an afterthought. Given that some project that the online food service market is likely to increase 15 times faster than the rest of the restaurant business by 2027, some are starting the move. The first one in Canada was Metro. Metro’s brilliant move of purchasing MissFresh this summer is evidence that grocers are starting to see the potential, but it has been slow. Amazon is clearly not as patient.
Blue Apron just announced it was reducing its sales force to better calibrate sales with capacity. Several start-ups have emerged and have done well, but no one has proven that the meal kit business can be sustainable for the long term. Many must spend an outrageous amount on marketing and set very high price points for their products. It is easy to see how Amazon can clarify the essence of the meal kit space by using its massive data-driven schemes.
Amazon is essentially about merchandizing convenience for all. Organics, meal kits, it’s all about convenience. For years, Walmart mastered the concept of simplicity in a big box store. Amazon is quite frankly hedging against the indolent nature of mankind. And for that, it’s winning.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois
Dean, Faculty of Management