March 27, 2019

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TORONTO – Last week, Microsoft’s Future Now 2019 event at the Beanfield Centre in Toronto focused on the growing salience of Artificial Intelligence [AI], what Microsoft is doing to further it, and what others are doing to translate its potential into results. ChannelBuzz spoke with Adastra Corporation, whose AI practice aligns closely with Microsoft in Canada – closely enough that they sponsored the event at a platinum level. Adastra talked with ChannelBuzz about how they are approaching the opportunities and challenges of AI today, particularly through the lens of their partnership with Microsoft. 

Adastra has an unusual corporate structure with two headquarters – one in the Toronto suburb of Markham, and the other in Prague in the Czech Republic. 

“The original company was founded to resell software in the Czech Republic, and it grew a data and analytics business around that which eventually became the business,” said Darren Edery, CEO of Adastra North America. The Canadian and European businesses evolved in a parallel way, and it is now a global business that operates in 40 countries.”

That balance between technical and broader skillsets in the digital transformation space was also emphasized by Edery, in his appearance at a panel at the event on innovative talent and the new world of work. 

The importance of ethics in responsible AI was a theme of the conference. That’s something that partners emphasize as well. 

Adastra has always been in the AI space, although the space itself has evolved since the company was founded in 2000. 

“We’ve been doing Big Data and AI from the very beginning,” Edery said. “Originally, it was Data Warehousing, Data Mining and Predictive Analytics. But it was still about building models to make predictions. What has really changed is the computing power. The exponential growth of data was always there, but the increased compute power lets us make much more meaningful insights much more quickly. In the beginning it was embraced very narrowly by technologists and very small areas of business.” 

“We weren’t able to do a lot of the work we can now before the increase in computational power,” said Rob Turner, VP Analytics & Cloud at Adastra. “More and more clients have been asking about moving their Data Warehousing to a highly scalable Cloud, and that has become a new practice area for us in the last two and a half years.” 

“The Cloud isn’t new, but what’s new from an industry trend is that so many Cloud organizations used to be resistant to put customer data there,” Edery said. “We are at a tipping point now where that resistance is collapsing. 

“The ability now to have an Azure data centre has really intensified this,” Turner added. “It has produced new capabilities around AI, and better customer insights.” 

“We approach digital transformation from an approach that is very much bottom up,” Adastra’s Edery said. “We are a hammer, so everything is a nail. We think data and analytics is the foundation of – who needs what information where. So we apply best practices around creative and digital design around which decision makers and customers need which information, and build the information to support that. 

“The issue with cloud AI data is how do you communicate those insights in a consumable way where you really make them impact,” Edery added. “In the session on financial services, we discussed a trend where we think we are leading. It involves mass scale customization of analytics delivered through mixed media-like videos. Customers see rendered videos personalized for them. We have some fascinating statistics on uptake and conversion rates from data delivered through static channels compared with through video. Video just crushes.” 

Adastra is also making increased use of augmented reality. 

“It lets us do things like have a clerk see real-time information about purchasing trends as they scan a retail store shelf,” Edery said. “We think that health care is the industry that needs AI and Augmented Reality the most – because the stakes are so high.” 

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