2019: Waterloo region tech leaders predict change on new year horizon

Leaders in Waterloo region's tech, business and education sector have listed their predictions for 2019. The era of waiting for information is ending, says one.

'Waiting for computers, or anything else, will become increasingly foreign to us,' one CEO says

Cyber security risk management grows 'exponentially,' says eSentire Inc. president J. Paul Haynes. (Shutterstcok)

2019 may be one of the last years you hear a phrase like "please wait for that information."

Change is coming to Waterloo region in 2019: that's the prediction of several leaders in the region's tech sector.

Sandy Pell is lead communications at the Kitchener video platform company Vidyard and founded WRPR, a Waterloo Region Public Relations community that fosters conversation between the region's communications leaders. She compiled a list of predictions from tech, business and education leaders and shared them with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

"My ultimate goal ... is to help readers learn more about what's being built in their own backyards, as well as perspectives from those respective leaders," Pell said via email. "I recently moved to the region after having been away for the last 10 years, so this is also helping me learn the latest developments."

Here are the predictions from leaders in Waterloo region's tech sector.

"This is the year that Waterloo Region will shift from being a startup hub, to being the home of several new globally competitive tech companies. I predict we see at least one new company reach $100M in revenue and see at least one really significant exit.

"We'll also see the top 25 scaling companies double their hiring (from 1,000 new employees hired in 2018 to at least 2,000 in 2019)."

— Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech

"AI [Artificial Intelligence] and machine learning make up the most exciting new development in the technology world right now and so far, we've only scratched the surface of its potential. AI is changing the way we look at information and automation. It's changing human/machine interactions, it's changing how we automate processes, and it's changing our expectations of what an ordinary worker can know and do.

"AI is not only making processes more quick and agile, it's letting organizations discover value hidden in their enormous stores of data, expanding on the content management services we've been offering for more than 25 years.

"Moreover, automating mundane and/or time-consuming activities through AI and machine learning improves employee satisfaction and lets them focus on the higher-level tasks that typically lead to things like better customer experiences. We think that's an inspiring goal." 

— Muhi Majzoub, executive vice president of engineering and cloud services at OpenText

Michael Litt is the CEO of Vidyard. His prediction for 2019 says local businesses and charities who need help from the tech sector will learn they can ask for support services rather than cash. (Vidyard)

"In 2019, local businesses will realize that if they want to be supported by their communities, they need to align corporate efforts to community needs. For example, cash donations are a popular request, but donations are not always economically feasible in the venture model and tech companies have so much more to give.

"Technology and human resources that can help these organizations are available in their own backyards.

"For example, the House of Friendship, a Kitchener-based organization that provides support services for those dealing with poverty, hunger, homelessness, and addiction, recently started using our free email video technology, Vidyard GoVideo, to help them secure new partnerships, which in return, has helped them raise more money.

"2019 will be the year that more businesses in our region prioritize corporate give-back strategies, via technology and human support. We all have something to give, and sometimes we need to look beyond cash."

— Michael Litt, co-founder and CEO of Vidyard

"In 2019, we'll start to see the 'future of work' begin to take shape in the present. The impact of megatrends that are transforming the 'future of work' will be broadly acknowledged by policymakers, education institutions, industry, and individuals. 

"We will start to see action from governments to ensure we're preparing tomorrow's workforce with future skills and closing the skills gap between the outputs of education systems and what industry needs. Furthermore, companies will start to increase their focus on better preparing their workforce for the adaptability and reskilling that is increasingly required, given the shortening shelf-life of many of today's skillsets.

"I expect we'll see major government investments into more work-integrated learning programs; companies will invest in technology to help effectively scale and personalize their skills development programs; education systems will begin to emphasize more durable soft skills to complement the more fleeting professional and technical skills; and individuals will start to think more about how they engage in lifelong learning to guarantee their ongoing economic prosperity."

— Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer for D2L

Local youth take part in an Actua learning event at Google's Kitchener's offices in April 2018. Matthew Chandy, lead for Smart Waterloo Region, predicts this will be the year the region puts children and youth first. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"The race to the cloud will inadvertently leave key business assets exposed and lead to some spectacular breaches. Canadian businesses may be more at risk, compared to US peers, as they do not invest in reducing cyber security risk at nearly the same level. This will further reinforce that cyber security risk management is not a static problem; it grows exponentially.

"Additionally, the creativity of threat actors will be shown at new levels as they embrace scaling technologies such as machine learning and cloud computing thereby leading to both a higher volume of attacks and greater success rate. The only remedy is continuous 24x7 monitoring to catch what leaks through."

— J. Paul Haynes, president and chief operating officer of eSentire Inc.

"It feels like the attitude of Canadian tech talent working in the U.S. is shifting — there's a changing tide. They're more open to moving back, and the Waterloo region is a big part of that. Reverse migration is a lot less risky when there are open opportunities at so many awesome, growing tech companies."

— Marc Morin, CEO of Auvik Networks

"I predict that the education technology industry will become a huge global trend starting in 2019 and continuing through the next 10 years. Traditionally, education has under-utilized technology in a significant way, missing key opportunities. At ApplyBoard we recognize technology plays a major role in the accessibility of education, something that is mirrored in our company's mission to make quality education accessible to everyone. With our AI-powered platform, we are able to connect with students in traditionally hard-to-reach places.

"Outside of our company, the K-W region is experiencing a growth in startup innovation. Startups now work toward solving greater global issues, and not only the concerns involving their local economy."

— Martin Basiri, co-founder and CEO of ApplyBoard

"2019 will be the year where Waterloo Region puts our children and youth first. With a one in five chance of winning $50 million through the federal government's Smart Cities Challenge, community partners will collaborate like never before.

"Through Smart Waterloo Region, we will build new and iterative solutions in collaboration with local children and youth, service providers, and members of our technology, design, and business communities to make our community the best in Canada for kids.

"We will incorporate voices and perspectives from diverse young people to ensure all children and youth feel valued, heard and included. Leveraging technology and data enabled solutions, we will continue to spur on innovation, cooperation and collaboration to improve child and youth well-being."

— Matthew Chandy, Smart Waterloo region lead

"To paraphrase an infamous quote, the smartest minds of our generation have spent the last decade figuring out how to get you to click on ads. But today, that's not good enough. People want their creativity and energy poured into something that matters.

"At Bonfire, we have a front row seat to this trend given our emphasis on GovTech and our goal of transforming the $8 billion of government spending decisions that get made every day. So here's my prediction for 2019: there will be a further shift in K-W tech away from small-but-scrappy startups toward larger, more 'missional' companies; where 100+ person teams are coming-of-age and starting to solve some of our society's most pressing issues. And that's an invigorating thought in these uncertain times."

— Corry Flatt, founder and CEO of Bonfire Interactive

"Few in the world create products across industry verticals better than the entrepreneurs of Waterloo. Data, science, algorithms are the tools we use to solve problems related to art, colour and emotion for the media and entertainment sector. What we are able to do here impacts virtually everyone on the planet. Not in a life-saving perspective, but it does bring something to everyone's life in a positive sense.

"SSIMWAVE is excited to be combining the science of the human visual system with IP and cloud technologies to deliver motion pictures to viewers the way the content creators intended.

"In 2019 and beyond the sheer volume of data will be driving ever deeper utilization of AI combined with machine learning. As we walk this path we're inviting others to join us in a UW-Industry Media Lab in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park."

— Abdul Rehman, CEO and co-founder of SSIMWAVE

"In 2019 waiting for computers, or anything else, will become increasingly foreign to us. Companies that make use of smart data and artificial intelligence to deliver consumers what they want, and faster than ever before, will reign supreme. How effectively data is used will become critical to business success."

— Jay El-Kaake, cofounder and CEO of

"In 2019, we'll see an increase in innovation in Waterloo region and across the country. As more tech giants open offices in our region, we predict that more entrepreneurs than ever will tap into their own creativity and ingenuity; they'll be inspired to invent, test, and bring products to market that will disrupt key industries and solve real problems.

"As it happens, we'll be watching for more Canadian tech talent currently working in the U.S. to open regional offices in Waterloo to become part of it."

— Mallorie Brodie, co-founder and CEO of Bridgit

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