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Alex Benay is the former chief information officer of Canada, and is joining consulting giant KPMG LLP as a partner.Government of Canada photo

Canada’s former chief information officer Alex Benay is joining consulting giant KPMG LLP as a partner after a short-lived stint as a top executive with an artificial-intelligence startup.

Mr. Benay joined Ottawa-based Mindbridge Analytics Inc. as chief client officer in September after heading efforts to modernize Ottawa’s digital infrastructure as federal CIO, a job he held for two years. He was previously chief executive officer of Canada Science and Technology Museums Corp. and vice-president with Waterloo software giant Open Text Corp. He was touted as a star hire by the startup and told The Globe and Mail in August “the opportunity [at Mindbridge] was not part of the plan but it’s hard to pass up."

Mr. Benay said in an interview the decision to leave the startup was his alone, stemming from conversations he had with KPMG – a Mindbridge customer – over the past three weeks.

“It wasn’t a question of fit”, nor a mistake, to join Mindbridge, he said. But he acknowledged it was an adjustment personally “going from the largest technology operation in the country to a startup. Absolutely there’s adjustment to be made there, I would be lying to you to say that doesn’t exist."

He said he was drawn to the opportunity to lead the digital and government solutions practice at KPMG “to continue to work on things that I had started [as federal CIO] including identity, digital rights, service transformation and national standards. … It was more a question of so much other digital work going on that needs to happen in Canada, and I really felt I needed to be able to continue that work.”

Mr. Benay will also continue to advise Mindbridge. “This isn’t a cutting the cord and moving on to something else completely,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Mindbridge’s AI software helps auditors by automatically reviewing all accounting entries within an assignment and flagging irregularities or questionable entries for them to examine. By comparison, human auditors typically review a fraction of entries, meaning they may miss mistakes or misdeeds. The 115-person startup has close to 300 public accounting firm customers and has done projects for the Bank of England and Payments Canada. Last month, the Bank of Canada chose Mindbridge to help detect abnormalities in payment transactions.

Greg Wiebe, vice-chair, digital, for KPMG Canada, said Mr. Benay’s connections in the tech sector and his government experience “is important to us. He understands the digital and technology space as well as anybody." He added Mr. Benay’s comfort speaking to an audience means he can promote the firm while speaking about “what Canada needs to do” to undertake digital transformation.

Mindbridge’s chief strategy officer Miyo Yamashita denied Mr. Benay’s departure was a setback given his ongoing advisory role. “We’re really excited about that," she said. “He’s made a decision that works for him and we think it’s a great decision. We don’t really consider that we’re losing him."

Mr. Benay was one of a group of seasoned executives recruited by Mindbridge CEO Eli Fathi after the company secured $29.6-million in venture capital and federal funding this year. Ms. Yamashita, previously managing partner with Deloitte, arrived in July, while Greg Adams, the former director of IBM’s Cognos Business Intelligence unit, started as vice-president, AI applications, in September. Mr. Benay has been replaced as chief client officer by Mindbridge’s senior vice-president of sales, John Colthart.

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