Market Insights

With the dramatic rise of ChatGPT, this large language model chatbot has business leaders of all stripes, from start-ups to corporate giants, thinking about Artificial Intelligence. It also raises questions about the best way to navigate AI’s unfolding opportunities and risks for business and society.

With that context, The Scotiabank Women Initiative (SWI) for Global Banking and Markets hosted a presentation about the AI revolution at the Bank’s annual Quebec Growth Technology Conference in Montreal. During the event, the group of entrepreneurs and investors learned that by improving access to AI, they can bolster their businesses, help women and diverse communities advance, and protect Canada’s competitive edge.

Left to right:
Shannon Katschilo
, Country Manager and Head of Canada at Snowflake, and Grace Lee, Senior Vice-President, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Scotiabank.

Build ‘data literacy’ to break barriers

Panel moderator Grace Lee, Senior Vice-President, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Scotiabank, described the challenge that can deter business leaders from embracing big data and AI opportunities: “You can’t even buy a burger today without someone suggesting how AI could help you cook the patty. However, most of us are still not realizing the true value of AI. There are a lot of unadvertised costs and complexity to implementing AI at scale, and we run the risk of people getting disillusioned at the gap between the promise and the reality.”

In response, Shannon Katschilo, Country Manager and Head of Canada at Snowflake, the Data Cloud company, observed that, “the devil is in the data, since established companies with on-premise legacy technologies often struggle with collecting, cleaning, consolidating and governing all of their data. In contrast, young companies and startups aren’t certain how to lay the right data foundation needed to move fast and operate efficiently. The fact is, there’s no AI strategy without a data strategy, and you need a strong data platform to enable this fourth industrial revolution.”

Shannon speaks from experience, as Snowflake has helped thousands of companies across industries mobilize their data to unite siloed data, discover and securely share data, and power AI-driven applications. “We work with organizations of all sizes to unlock the full value of their data, alongside helping them bring external data and third-party data into their own platform through secure data collaboration, so they can build innovative applications that deliver increased value to their customers.”

“The companies that are getting this right have the right internal culture to create data literacy,” Shannon explains. “That means helping all employees – not just the data or technology departments – develop a good understanding of what data they own or are responsible for, and how they can drive insights with that data. Once you help your people get comfortable with their data, and see the opportunities, you can get them to move out of their silos and empower other parts of the business with data and AI.”

Snowflake encourages clients to first learn to crawl and walk, before they run: “I love helping clients to explore high value, low effort initiatives to deliver business or customer value and earn a tangible ROI, whether that’s business optimization or helping to augment their workforce, so employees can shift from manual tasks to more creative roles.”

Build AI for good, through diversity

Acknowledging that the full impact and associated risks of AI are yet to be understood, Grace remarked that, “whether AI is here for good or for bad, it’s here to stay, so we must be thoughtful about it.”

Shannon agreed, observing that, “if you’ve tried ChatGPT, you know it doesn’t always get it right. And in your organization, you can’t afford to get it wrong. That’s why a company must build a very strong data foundation, so your AI applications are created on a solid base that minimizes hallucinations.”

The key to getting it right, she explains, is ensuring that we expand access to AI, so that it’s in everybody’s hands, not just data scientists: “To mitigate any of the ‘scariness’ of AI and make it as intuitive, accurate, and effective as possible, we need to bring different people to the table, including more women, and more under-represented groups, so AI is more reflective of our communities.” 

Shannon notes that recent studies indicate that only 36% of women in North America have used ChatGPT personally or professionally, versus 56% of men: “We need to create opportunities for data and AI training, upskilling and certifications for women and all members of society.”

She adds that Snowflake offers a free in-house study program where individuals can learn about AI and data management and earn SnowPro certifications. Snowflake customers can also leverage Streamlit, an open-source Python framework acquired by Snowflake to democratize data applications, so team members can learn to build their own data applications with just a few clicks. “It’s a really nice way for people like myself, who are not experienced coders, to take data and turn it into something that brings value in the real world.”

Shannon suggests that by broadening access to data, technology, and information, Canada’s own tech sector can continue to thrive. “I sometimes hear how tech companies start in Canada, but then scale up in the U.S., partly because they struggle to find and retain the critical talent they need. It’s essential that we find ways to upskill Canadians and challenge them to stay and keep driving innovation in our organizations.”

Michelle Khalili, Managing Director and Head, Global Equity Capital Markets, at Scotiabank, pointed out that this philosophy complements the mandate of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, which, since 2018, “has supported women in their careers, including women business owners, founders and leaders, to chart paths to the boardroom, obtain specialized education, advice, and solutions so they have the knowledge, expertise and leadership skills to succeed.”

To conclude the presentation, Shannon offered a rallying cry to business leaders: “Look at your teams and ask whether they are equipped to take part in this AI revolution. Today, there are so many great programs to help upskill your workforce with data and AI capabilities. As a people leader myself, as someone who cares about Canada, and as a parent, I believe we have to do everything we can to mitigate the risks, and ensure our people have the tools to be part of the wealth, and value-creation that this technology can enable.”


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