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Published On: Monday, 13 March 2017

New Year, New Tech, New Tools

New Year, New Tech, New Tools

- Tom Dyas is the President of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. To find out more information about the organization please visit www.kelownachamber.org.

KELOWNA - 2017 is rolling out with only a few surprises, so far: the best one is how ebullient the business market is. We came right out of the gate in January with pumped-up business predictions, and a busy-ness we weren’t completely expecting.

A few notable points: you can’t pick up a newspaper or open an online news page without seeing the word “Trump” on every page – literally.  The Trump Effect on the stock market currently, remains a positive one, alongside the headline-grabbing back-stories.

Hendrik Brakel, Senior Director of Economic, Financial & Tax Policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce laid out some numbers at the end of January:  US unemployment is at just 4.6%, a couple points below Kelowna’s 6.8% (last official monthly rate, November 2016) and US wages are rising 3% year-over-year.

Strong US numbers are good news for Canadian exports: it means the US market is hungry and cashed-up, waiting for Canadian imports.  In the mid-February Washington meetings between the US and Canada, we read that NAFTA will be “tweaked” not tossed out; and that the punishing 20% border tariffs weren’t even on the table in the discussions between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump. Another good signal.

Hendrik Brakel’s overall prediction for 2017: a year of Shock and Opportunity. 

Elections are the byword for 2017.  The Kelowna Chamber’s annual election closed March 2 in advance of the March 15 AGM.  The US election results are still loudly resonating in the headlines.  In BC, the provincial election goes forward May 9; there will be announcements and budget presentations in advance, and doubtless some MLA changes and new policies after.

The Kelowna Chamber hosted a provincial budget presentation with Premier Clark on February 24.  Many of our chamber colleagues are hosting presentations in their respective BC locales in the run-up to the election.

Internationally, the effects of the general election in the Netherlands (March) and France (April-May) will have less effect on businesses locally, but will still set a global tone as predictions of more populist, right wing representatives have their effect on protectionism, the EU, tariffs, and immigration. All eventually have their effect here at home.

Kelowna continues to be touted as a great site for tech employees – Accelerate Okanagan’s CEO Raghwa Gopal forecasted in January that tech will become Kelowna’s biggest economic sector in the next decade. 

Jeff Cates, president of Intuit Canada, pointed out in the February 15, 2017 Globe & Mail that smart business leaders not only focus on their business plans at this early point in the year, but also look ahead to identify trends that can better position their businesses for success.

One of Cates’s hot buttons for 2017 is ‘machine learning.” Simply defined, Machine Learning is a type of AI (Artificial Intelligence) which has been around for years now.  But Machine Learning centers around computer programs that teach themselves evolution – they get smarter as they are exposed to new data. That’s a good career choice for all of us, and it’s good to hear that the machines that help us create success are involved in helping us get there.

Current AI initiatives are visible at Mercedes Benz (an autonomous car to be introduced next year); Amazon, Alexa and Hey Google.  These all represent self-learning platforms that Cates – who is clearly deeply invested through his Quick Books Online – sees as creating an AI strategic adviser for everyone’s business. Heady stuff!

Another big tech tool that was much in evidence at the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas in January – the global pinnacle of all things tech – was Virtual Reality. “VR” is a term that is being attached to a ton of products that are already in people’s living rooms, offices, and autos.

One of the most fascinating business applications will be VR as it applies to remote workers. Colleagues will be able to stay connected, both in a social environment, and in learning new applications and techniques in a remotely connected, 24/7 online environment.

Last but not least, I continue to be fascinated by alternate payment/cash strategies.  We’ve moved from cash to plastic, from bricks and mortar banking to online technologies.  Now, there is “Blockchain Technology”.  Best known as the technology that underpins the Bitcoin digital currency, Blockchain goes far beyond and is starting to have real impact in the financial services industry. 

One of our members, John Phillips at our local BMO, steered me toward some published information on the technology. The Bank of Canada is developing a digital currency called CAD-Coin, in collaboration with Canadian banks and NY-based blockchain start-up R3.

Canada’s “Big Five” chartered banks are participating, and are members of the R3CEV consortium. The consortium is testing and developing CAD-Coin.

“The Bank has an ambitious research agenda to conduct research into a DLT (distributed ledger technology) payment system,” said the senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, Carolyn Wilkins.  The outcome would be to build an interbank payment system using blockchain technology.

Just one “out there” Blockchain example is Mycelia – they have developed songs with smart contracts already built in – artists can thus sell direct to consumers without the need to involve either a streaming company or a record label. Change, change.  I look forward to what else 2017 will bring!