Niagara readies for big data technologies

Column: Mary Wiley, Special to Postmedia Network

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“Leverage data and knowledge as resources for predictive intelligence” is the No. 1 overall opportunity for action cited in the Living in Niagara-2014 report.

The report, built by diverse Niagara-wide partners, is a triennial snapshot in time of quality of life in Niagara. It describes practical action steps Niagarans together can take to build a stronger future.

Data produced, gathered, shared and utilized in Niagara is vital infrastructure that plugs us in to an increasingly connected world. Through the Niagara Connects network, people, institutions, agencies, businesses and governments are working together to describe and strengthen our local data assets. By increasing our ability to capture and openly share data and knowledge, we are positioning Niagara as a strong receptor for a massive global trend.

“Big data technologies will be transformative in every sphere of life” states a 2014 report released by the office of the U.S. president. “Technological advances have driven down the cost of creating, capturing, managing, and storing information to one-sixth of what it was in 2005. And since 2005, business investment in hardware, software, talent, and services has increased as much as 50%, to $4 trillion.”

Governments everywhere are figuring out how to open up data sets for public consumption, while making sure information that should remain secure does stay that way. Open sharing of data requires a culture shift in government: this shift boosts economies by empowering citizens with information.

A 2014 University of Toronto Mowat Centre report states that 50 municipalities in Canada have open data policies. Six percent — three of the 50 — are in Niagara. The Regional Municipality of Niagara, the City of Welland, and the City of Niagara Falls are already openly sharing data sets on their websites — data about assets such as urban boundaries, zoning, parks, trails, transportation routes and heritage sites.

These municipal government open data initiatives, coupled with the pioneering work of the Niagara-wide community in building the and tools, are putting Niagara in the spotlight on the global open data stage.

The third annual provincial GO Open Data conference is happening, this Friday and Saturday at Brock. In 2013, the conference was held in Waterloo; in 2014 it was in Toronto.

Keynote speakers include Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews; Denmark’s Christian Villum of the Open Knowledge global network; and Jamie Van Ymeren, author of the above-mentioned Mowat Centre report. One of five Knowledge Sessions features panelists from the Ontario Poverty Reduction Initiative, the City of Toronto, the Social Research and Planning Council of Hamilton and Niagara Region’s Niagara Prosperity Initiative. They will examine how diverse partners can work together to create, manage and utilize data to address root causes of complex socio-economic issues such as poverty.

On Saturday, a Hackathon will see interested citizens, software developers and policy experts working side by side to learn, share and see open data in action.

Teams will solve real-world challenges with open data sets. “Anything goes from analyzing data and creating visualizations to developing a mobile or web app,” states the conference program.

Open, horizontal sharing of information strengthens people, institutions, businesses and communities.

The growing suite of tools Niagara has at its fingertips for exchanging relevant, reliable data and knowledge supports innovation and socio-economic development.

To learn more, go to:, or follow the GO Open Data 2015 conference on Twitter: @go_opendata #GOOD15

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Mary Wiley is Executive 
Director of Niagara Connects

Niagara Knowledge Exchange & Community Calendar

Niagara Connects is a proud participating member of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network.