Franco Amalfi Director Of Innovation At Oracle

Franco Amalfi, Director of Innovation for Oracle Public Sector North America. In my current role I work with cities. I run a Smart Cities program, and what drives me is to be able to help government, help their citizens. I find that government does not get enough credit. Their employees are doing really hard work because it requires a lot of effort to provide great service to citizens, and what drives me is finding unique ways to help these individuals help the population.

Seeing Montreal Evolve Over The Years

First of all, I have to say Montreal is a great place to live. It has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, plus years that I’ve been here. I grew up here. I went to high school not far from where we are today in Ville-Émard. Montreal’s always been my home and having kids that were born in Montreal and lived in Montreal, I see the evolution of the city. I mean 30 years ago the city was not what it is today. Now it’s a world-class city with so many great things offered to us, and I see the opportunities for my kids to grow up in Montreal, and to have their future here.

Integrating To Montreal’s Society As An Immigrant

The integration was actually pretty smooth. I had family that lived here already. I went to French school which I think is a huge benefit to learn French, to be living in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter. It’s a great language. I did a year of language to learn French, then I went to high school, like a normal French high school with everybody, and I assimilated, just picked up where I left off. Obviously you have to make new friends and you have to start over but, other than that, I mean the people here are very friendly and it’s easy to make friends, and it was great experience, overall.

Nothing Compares To Montreal

I lived in the US for a few years with my wife but I have worked in New York City. I spent almost 10 years working there in financial services with many of the Wall Street banks, but I’ve also traveled extensively all over the world. I’ve traveled to Europe, to Latin America, did a lot of work in Sao Paolo, in Mexico City, Bogota. I did work in London, Paris, and others, but there is no place like Montreal. No matter how many places you visit, whenever you come back here there’s always that nostalgia, there’s always that, Montreal is unique. It’s your home. It feels like home. There’s no other place like it.

How Montreal’s Culture Gives Us Strength

I think it’s the culture here. It’s the creativity that we have in Montreal, the fact that we have two languages, and sometimes there are opposing views, but I think that really gives Montreal a unique strength, and also all the multimedia that we’re doing here, all the investments that we’re doing in AI and all these other emerging technologies, gaming, and so on.

I think this city’s really done a great job at boosting its image globally in the last few years, and it’s also attracted a lot of investments here and we’re seeing that it really is making a difference here. I think think just all these factors, and that joie de vivre that we have here, you don’t see that anywhere else. I mean you can go anywhere else, and people are mindful, running around all the time. Life seems different here, seems more enjoyable, seems happier.

The Link Between Oracle And Montreal

Actually, I travel extensively. I spend half of my time on planes and hotels. I travel a lot to the US and many parts of the world. Mostly in the US lately, Oracle is a big presence in Montreal. We have about 300 people in the office here. We actually do development in French, in Montreal. Some of our software is translated here on Montreal. We have a sales office. We do work across many government entities.

The City of Montreal uses a lot of our software to run the city. So we have a lot of customers here as well. We run a lot of mission critical systems. Oracle may not be the sexiest brand, but it is the brand that makes companies and government organizations run their mission critical systems.

Cities Investing In Smarter Technologies

I work with many cities, and at Oracle right now I’m running a program for Smart Cities. There’s been a resurgence of interest from cities on investing in smarter technologies, especially with the advent of cloud and the fact that we have access to data, and we can actually use the data and run processes, and the cost of using the data has come down. It’s really created an inertia where a lot of cities are investing in this space, and Montreal luckily, was selected for a Smart Cities challenge grand prize. They won $50 million dollars in May from the Government of Canada, which will really enable some of these products to take life here in Montreal.

But I work with other cities as well. I work with Toronto. I work with San Jose. I work with Albuquerque, with Atlanta, in New York and others. This whole movement is great, because what it’s all about is creating a better place for citizens who love, how to use technology to make a life easier.

One example is transportation. How do we move around the city easier? Instead of always taking the bus, we have great transit systems in Montreal but sometimes it’s not convenient. How do we tie together all the different components to create that experience that moves us from where we wanna go to, where we wanna get to?

So those are the kinda things that technology brings and I think the other big thing is artificial intelligence. I mean the fact that we have a thriving ecosystem here in Montreal, that really helps us bring these capabilities to market, to really help automation. Cities are strapped for cash. They never have enough money. They’re always looking for ways of becoming more effective, and I think some of these technologies have great promises to help cities deliver more on their mission to make cities more livable. It’s all about creating an environment where citizens can live, work, and play, and make Montreal their home.

Data Management

Oracle has been around for like 40 plus years, and at the heart of what Oracle does is data management. If you think of when Oracle started 40 years ago was building a database for the CIA code named Oracle. And that was the roots of the company. And if you’re looking over the last 40 years, all of our capabilities have been built around managing data. And the heart of the smart cities is data. You’re pulling data from sensors, you’re pulling data from systems, you’re getting data from peoples’ phones, you’re getting it from cars now, from vehicles and so on, so many different places, there’s a way you gotta harness this data and use it in business processes.

Where we come in with our technology is taking all this data and bringing it to business processes, to help citizens and cities be more effective. As an example, I talked about mobility as a service, as one of the areas we’re focused on, because it’s critical for cities to have mobility that works.

If you think today we have so many different ways you can move around. It could be your car, it could be the transit, the metro, the bus, it could be Uber, it could be bikes. There are so many different ways people can move around and what we’re focused on is bringing solutions to market that actually help cities tie all this together, and that’s where Oracle’s strength is, is the platform that allows you to bring all this data together in a way that helps the citizens, and that is the lowest cost possible for the cities, as well.

Oracle’s History In Montreal

Oracle’s been working in Montreal probably for like 30 years plus. I mean the city’s a great customer of Oracle. Most of their finances and their human capital management, even procurement, so any purchasing that gets done in the City of Montreal runs through Oracle technology. All their financial systems is using Oracle. They use Oracle for managing all their employees as well. A lot of their critical systems that the city uses to run itself, to run the operations, are using Oracle.

We’re working towards trying to help them with new projects. Obviously, it’s a work in progress, but we’re trying to find ways of bringing some of these newer technologies to the city as well, these emerging technologies, things like blockchain, AI. Things like IoT where we have great capabilities, we’re working towards bringing those, as proposed, those to the city as well.

The Movin’On Movement

So the moving on movement is actually very important to Oracle because it’s mainly managed by Michelin, which is a French company, and our French team last year participated, here in Montreal, came to the attend the event, and they fell in love with the city. They fell in love with the way the event was managed. It’s a very creative event. There’s not many conferences like Moving On or C2 anywhere else. Last year I got to attend both of them. It’s very unique and it’s very well done. It attracts a lot of thought leaders from all over the world.

With the French team, about trying to, why not get involved and sponsor the event, and this year we actually went big. So we had one of the keynote sessions. One of our executives came in to present. We also had a booth, and we also ran a workshop and Wes came to Montreal to actually run the booth and present the new offering that we have for frictionless intermodal transit, which is really about helping cities create these transportation capabilities or probability as a service, where you can just pull your phone up and choose the most convenient way for you to move around the city. Which is one of the key projects that the city won the 50 million dollars on. Which is very coincidental but it is the future, because a lot of cities are investing in that space.

The Future Of Sustainable Mobility

Cities are growing exponentially. There’s a huge movement towards urbanization. More and more people are moving from rural areas to cities. That is putting tremendous pressure on our roads. Drive in Montreal, drive anywhere, there’s tremendous traffic. Anywhere you go, you’re gonna be stuck in traffic. I’ve never seen traffic in Montreal like in the last few years. It’s a huge growth of population.

What cities are doing is trying to find ways of moving people around in a faster more efficient way, and also to reduce the impact on the environment. If you think the more cars there is on the roads, the more we’re gonna pollute, and also, we take more space as a car. If you look at the lanes in the downtown area, if you have bikes, you could probably move four times the amount of people on bikes on the same amount of space than you can on cars with a lot less footprint, and a lot less cost for the city as well, ’cause bikes don’t deteriorate the roads as well, as much as a car does. So therefore, there’s a lot of incentives, both for the citizens and for the city, to make sure that we use modes of transportation that are more sustainable.

A bike, you can run it for many, many times. Multiple people could reuse the bikes that are available through ride share of bikes or scooters, or whatever. But if you have a car then it’s just you and the car, and you’re just using that space. So it’s really about reducing congestion and reducing the impact on the environment and really I think a way for people to move around and a way that is more sustainable, and they can get wherever they want as fast as they can. It’s faster to move people in a bike in the downtown area, than it is to move by car.

Montreal’s Education System

I wouldn’t move anywhere else. I’ve had offers to move back to the US with my family to go live there. Opportunities for the kids here, the schooling system, the capabilities that we have, and just growing up here, it’s a lot less stressful I find, than the American cities. Just the pressure of going to school and so on, and we have world class schools here. With McGill and Universite de Montreal and so on, why would you wanna live anywhere else? And then for me this is the best place to raise a family. And also, I see Montreal as my home. Everywhere else I’ve always been it’s something, a place, even if I lived there it was a place I visited.

World Class Companies Setting Up In Montreal

I think Montreal has really come a long way in the last 10 years. Just look at the amount of construction that is around us, the amount of projects that are being started. Also look at the luxury brands that are coming to Montreal. Look at the Four Seasons Hotel opened a hotel in Montreal. That would have been unheard of 15 years ago. And also, like at the number of companies that are investing in Montreal, especially in the AI space. All these world class companies like Google, and Microsoft, and Samsung, and the like, they’re all moving here because we’re such a thriving ecosystem of research in this space. That being one, gaming. The other one is around visual effects. All these great artistic things that are happening. If you think of that. Some of the exports like Celine Dion or Cirque du Soleil, these are all things that are putting Montreal on the map, and when you talk to anybody, a lot of my friends are American, and I talk to them about Montreal it’s like,

Opportunities Have Come Back To Montreal

I don’t think anybody ever left Montreal ’cause they wanted to, ’cause they didn’t like Montreal, they left because they were looking for better opportunities. I think one of the things Montreal has done is the city and the government has, the policies they’ve put in place with investments, and technology and R and D, and these focus areas like aerospace, IT, and all, so on.

Putting emphasis on those spaces has created companies that want to move here, and the more we see that there’s opportunities and things that are happening, people tend to go where there is innovation, and Montreal is the hottest thing there is, one of the global hubs for AI. So people wanna be here. I think the fact that government has made a significant investment in space, has created the opportunities for people to wanna move here.

Our Booming Startup Culture

A lot of my friends that I went to McGill with, are all working at startups here in Montreal. So one of my friends is working at and they do speech recognition using AI, that’s very interesting. He actually got an internship at MILA right now, so that’s good, and then he’s gonna do his PhD soon after.

One of my friends is also working at wrnch.AI, they’ve kind of like, pivoted for a bit, but they basically use video processing and image recognition to come up with cool stuff, you know. For instance one of their products is to identify your joints. Like if they take a picture of you right now their system could identify different joints of your body. So I think that’s really cool.

And one of my other friends is also working on an AI company a startup here in Montreal. And they come up with algorithms that will detect diseases using CT scans and MRI scans, so that’s also very interesting. So yeah, there’s a lot of these tiny startups doing really cool stuff here in the city.

Getting Back On The Right Path

I think in the past there was a lot of negativity around Montreal. So while we heard about separation and all that nonsense, but in the last few years, I’ve not heard anybody asking those questions. People just say,

Our World Class Schools Translate To World Class Talent

I think one of the things that Montreal really has, we have a very highly educated population here. I mean with all the universities that we have and all the schools that we have, and we have a lot of talent. I think that the city’s doing a better job at packing their strengths, and selling their strengths worldwide, and I think that’s made a big difference, because others see the uniqueness, what we get here, versus going to a different city in North America.

Montreal Is A Unique Place To Live

I think Montreal is a unique place to live. We have some of the best universities in the world, like McGill is ranked in the top 30 universities in the world, the top 15 from medical schools and so on. It’s also been ranked the number one city in the world for students to live in. We have over 150,000 students in Montreal in universities.

There’s a lot of fun things to do in Montreal. Beyond the education which is world class, the city itself is a lot of fun. We have some of the lowest operating costs in North America, so I think that if you take the fact that we have a highly educated population and some of the best schools, and the fact that it’s lower, the cost of operations, it makes sense to wanna set up shop here in Montreal.

And also the other thing that you get here is a huge pool of talent that you probably can’t find many other places. Yes, you can get lower cost of operations in the middle of nowhere in the US, or some other city in Canada, but you’re not gonna find the same level of caliber of talent that you would get in Montreal.

Tech Companies Making The Move To Montreal

In the past there wasn’t too many technology companies that would set up big offices here, where they have a lot of research here. We’re seeing more and more of those organizations like Google, and Microsoft, and the likes, and so like us and others investing more and more in Montreal to set up more offices here, ’cause they see the potential, they see the creativity and the talent pool that they can get here. I think that’s one of the key things that we are seeing here more and more. And even companies that are starting here that are becoming known more globally, as well.