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Steven Astorino

Steven Astorino

Vice President of Development, Data & AI and Canada Lab Director, IBM

As Canadian businesses look for the best ways to reintegrate their workers, AI tools are providing a safer route to guide them.

C-suite leaders navigating the return to the workplace amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) as a way to safely guide them through the storm.

As organizations quickly modernize their workloads to stay competitive, leaders are simultaneously laying the groundwork for employees to return to work — and AI tools are playing a critical support role, says Steven Astorino, Vice President of Development, Data and AI and Canada Lab Director at IBM.

“With the pandemic, enterprise leaders have come to the realization that they need to accelerate the digital transformation of their businesses and services solutions so they can stay competitive,” says Astorino.

Prior to the shift to remote work, IBM and other tech companies were already offering value-added AI tools to help companies make more accurate predictions, automate decisions and processes, and optimize time. When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted global workforces, IBM acted quickly to offer Watson Works, a curated set of AI tools that helps businesses get back on their feet and adapt more quickly to the tightrope of return-to-work policies and processes.

Overnight, virtual assistants like IBM Watson Assistant became critical to organizations of all kinds, including municipalities like Markham, ON who used it to provide citizens with updated and trusted information on COVID-19. The city has since expanded its use of Watson Assistant to include answers to many common municipal questions — from garbage pickup to applying for a building permit.

“For enterprises, Watson Assistant helps employees get answers to pressing questions on the fly. Open, accurate, and consistent communication is critical to keep everyone safe as employers bring their teams back to the office,” says Astorino.

With the pandemic, enterprise leaders have come to the realization that they need to accelerate the digital transformation of their businesses and services solutions so they can stay competitive.

Steven Astorino, Vice President of Development, Data and AI and Canada Lab Director at IBM.

Data science goes mainstream

AI tools automate and speed up many tasks that employees find cumbersome and time-consuming, and are increasingly being used to speed up decisions in industries like finance and legal, Astorino says.

“You can apply AI to any technology in any industry. It’s about automating better and faster and leveraging the predictive power of AI,” says Astorino.

To help businesses get started, IBM Canada offers a free-of-charge collaborative space called the Machine Learning Hub at sites in Toronto and Ottawa, as well as through remote engagement. The Machine Learning Hub allows businesses to take advantage of cutting-edge AI technologies like Watson Studio with no commitment.

“Data scientists are bringing their challenges to our Machine Learning Hub and working with brilliant IBM data scientists and software engineers,” says Astorino. “We’ve been very successful in educating our customers on how they can use AI and build machine learning models, no matter where they are on their AI journey.”

AI adoption a “strategic investment in the future”

Astorino likens the adoption of AI across enterprise to the way many consumers discovered the convenience and efficiency of ordering groceries online during the pandemic. “The technology was already there, but now everyone knows about it. There’s no going back to the way things were once you discover the value,” he says. 

The larger the corporation or the larger the facilities, the more impactful AI is going to be for ensuring a safer return to work, Astorino adds. While leaders in industries such as health care and finance have traditionally been skeptical of AI predictions, those concerns are quickly being addressed by advances made in the explainability of AI.

“We now have the right tools to explain AI decisions and increase people’s trust. As AI advances, it will only continue as a vital and strategic investment in the future of any company,” Astorino says.

IBM Canada Lab

IBM Canada Lab is the largest software development lab in Canada.

Software labs are located in Toronto, Markham, Ottawa, London, and Fredericton

IBM Canada Lab has been in Canada for 50+ years

600+ annual internships and the largest domestic IT co-op program

One of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for 2020 (The Globe and Mail/Media Corp)

Data Science at Your Service

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IBM Canada’s Machine Learning Hub helps companies learn how to use data to unlock the power of AI and machine learning technology. IBM’s data science experts help enterprises visualize, analyze, and interpret their data and build and test rapid, scalable prototypes for fast deployment of these models at their organizations. Machine Learning Hubs are located in Markham and Ottawa.

Enterprise Design Thinking

IBM infographic lightbulb

IBM Canada Lab includes three studio locations to facilitate Enterprise Design Thinking, which helps customers collaborate, align teams, and solve users’ problems — all while improving customer experiences at the speed and scale the modern enterprise demands.

IBM Canada Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS)

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A dedicated team of IBM researchers drives technical innovation by partnering with Canadian universities to advance domestic research and development. IBM Canada CAS provides funding, experts, and technology to enrich Canadian graduate research and to propel great ideas from theory to application.

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