CanadianSME Small Business Magazine recently chatted with Guillaume Hervé, an expert serial intrapreneur and a senior business executive with more than 25 years of management and leadership experience across multiple sectors like high technology, aerospace, and defence, government, and healthcare. He is also a skilled facilitator, excelling in working with senior leadership teams to accomplish breakthroughs, alignment and approval. Mr. Hervé is also an author who has written “Winning at Intrapreneurship: 12 Labors to Overcome Corporate Culture and Achieve Startup Success” and regularly publishes articles on leadership challenges intrapreneurship and management. Read on to know how Mr. Hervé works with executives across industries to develop impactful repositioning and growth strategies.
How has the pandemic affected the construction industry in Canada?
All of us continue to witness whirlwind times that are similar across the Canadian economy. Uncertainty and disruption from the pandemic put most major development projects on hold and previously reliable supply chains are now known for their vulnerabilities. These familiar problems are pronounced in the construction industry, which sources many building materials from other countries grappling with a significant labour shortage. Recent stats from Statistics Canada show the pinch on our collective pocketbooks: the price for non-residential projects increased by 8.3% and residential projects by 20.3% in the third quarter of 2021.
What are your thoughts on the cost of construction materials soaring during the pandemic?
With adversity comes opportunity, especially for SMEs that are more agile when responding to sudden shocks to our economy compared to corporations with entrenched business practices. The fallout from the pandemic forces all of us to rethink how we can produce and adopt innovations to cut costs and reduce labour requirements. This is where innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) take centre stage, being technology produced mainly by SMEs like our company. We’ve had diverse clients in industries ranging from transportation to aerospace and resource sectors –not just construction–shift their interest in AI automation from “nice to have” to “must-have, right now!”
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Do you see this as a short-term problem or is this something that will continue to affect the industry?
These challenges are likely here to stay for quite some time. For one, governments worldwide including Canada are betting on investments in infrastructure as a winning strategy to stimulate and sustain economic growth. In addition to this long-term, high demand for building materials, labour shortages in construction appear pernicious. Consider the situation in Québec as reported by the CBC in 2021; we need to find over 11 thousand new workers per year in order to complete on time the many infrastructure projects already planned by the provincial government. Throwing human resources at this nationwide problem as a silver-bullet solution is risky. It is obvious that Canada will need to invest in AI automation and similar technologies in order to rise above the current compromised business environment.
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Pomerleau and Zetane Systems announced a new innovation initiative? Can you share more details about it and what was the inspiration behind this launch?
The timing for this project couldn’t be better. Partnering with StartUp Montreal, Pomerleau held an open competition in 2021 for Canadian SMEs to compete in the development of AI for the construction industry. The goal was to produce new means to automate the laborious and time-consuming task of extracting information from construction plans that undergo revisions and changes in specifications on a daily basis.
Over 30 SMEs flexed their innovation muscles, but our proof-of-concept technology delivered for the competition rose to the top. Instead of copying what most AI corporations do, which is to try to sell a large, complex and expensive solution, Zetane proposed a tightly-defined prototype to demonstrate that AI was indeed the right tool for the job. Presenting our solution using intuitive visuals of AI–being our specialty–ensured corporate buy-in of our technology since business decision-makers could review and understand our proposal. We are now working hand-in-hand with Pomerleau to scale our innovation that centres on AI computer vision capable of analyzing construction blueprints and engineering specifications. Our partnership enabled us to submit a strong and successful request for funding support to Montreal-based INVEST-AI. This organization allocates funds to encourage the adoption of AI in Canadian industry and is eager to support SMEs with advancing their innovation prowess. By supporting our R&D and project costs, large companies like Pomerleau have confidence being the early adopters of novel “high-risk” innovations and reaping the high rewards, by working with local, lesser-known SMEs rather than technology titans south of the border.
How will this innovation help small businesses? Do you have any advice for these small businesses who have been trying to anticipate cost increases from materials over the past year not knowing exactly what they will be?
The trickle-down effects of more competitive and efficient construction industry will be felt by all businesses by helping to control costs related to capital investments in buildings. Now that large companies are adopting AI innovation faster than ever, the price tag for the technology will decrease, making new forms of automation and analysis more available to businesses big and small. It’s too soon to foresee how AI will help small businesses better plan construction projects. However, we hope our recent success at Zetane will inspire fellow SMEs to follow in our footsteps. The pandemic encouraged provincial and federal governments to funnel much-needed funds towards technology development by SMEs in the form of new grants, subsidies and loans. If your small business has a solid technology product, a winning team and a great network with leading Canadian corporations, the opportunities to secure investments for your innovation initiatives are now better than ever. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. Spoken from experience, government funding coupled with corporations eager to outcompete Luddites is the perfect recipe for helping technology SMEs reach new levels of excellence.
About the Guillaume Hervé
Guillaume Hervé is the co-founder and CEO of Zetane. Previously, Mr. Hervé was a senior executive at CAE Inc. where he held several key positions; he was the founder and CEO of CAE Healthcare which leveraged simulation, haptics and virtual reality technologies and best practices in aviation simulation to offer surgical simulators and patient simulators to medical schools, hospitals and defence organizations worldwide. Before that, Guillaume was the CEO of Presagis, specializing in delivering high fidelity, physics-based simulation and graphics software. Prior to this, he was an Executive VP in CAE Inc.’s core business. Some of his responsibilities included VP Global Operations and Technology for Commercial Aviation Training, VP Aviation for Americas and Asia, and Head of Engineering. He is an active mentor and coach with start-ups at FounderFuel, TechStars, District 3, CTS Santé, and the Business Families Foundation. He is the Chairman of the Board of CTS Santé, the most active accelerator for medical technologies and devices in Canada and the Chairman of the Board of CM Labs, a Montreal high-tech software company offering simulators and simulation software for vehicles, defence, robotics, construction and port operations. Prior to CAE, Mr. Hervé was an officer in the Canadian Air Force.