SAINT JOHN – The Port City will be spotlighted this week at The Big Data & Analytics Summit in Toronto for its first-of-its-kind community data project.
Representatives from Enterprise Saint John and T4G will present the city’s Smart and Connected Community Data Strategy to conference delegates. Announced in summer 2017, Saint John’s plan features North America’s first data repository. The cloud-based platform brings together public and private sector data to enable businesses, start-ups, community organizations and governments to solve problems and work to develop new products and services.
“We’re starting off by talking about the City of Saint John as the ‘city of firsts.’ We had the first chartered bank, the first police force, the first public high school and now Saint John is about to embark on another first,” says Janet Scott, Director, Business and Community Development at Enterprise Saint John. “We’re the first community in North America to bring public and private together in a community data platform.”
Scott says bringing both public and private data together in a cloud-based platform means this data can be used to solve challenges big and small, which is where the economic development piece comes in.
“The idea from an economic development standpoint is to drive innovation and growth for our community from solving challenges,” says Scott. “And out of that come new data-driven solutions. It could be applications, it could be new algorithms, new models that can then be applied and exported outside of Saint John.”
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The goal of presenting at The Big Data & Analytics Summit is to show people in the rest of Canada and beyond the innovative things Saint John is doing with data collection and use.
“We’re kind of the perfect mini-city, so what we’re hoping to achieve is we want to send this message to people in Toronto and beyond that we’re creating a playground for innovators in Saint John where you can test products or solve challenges,” says Scott.
Saint John has a major advantage over major cities because of its size, says Scott. It’s not just that data is more accessible, but important people are too. Scott says a few startups have already shown interest in doing work in Saint John, including a startup in New York.
“If [a business idea] has something to do with the hospital, it has something to do with industry or has something to do with managing movement around a community, given that we’re small, it’s much easier to find collaborators and to get work done in a community like Saint John than let’s say Toronto or New York or San Francisco,” says Scott.
”Imagine getting to the right people to access data? We’re bringing that data into one spot where researchers and innovators can access it and then also can connect these innovators and investors to the people that actually own the challenges.”
Scott says the community data platform is expected to be completed by the end of the month. From there they will be launching several “proof of concept” projects.
“Five projects will be broad and two will be tourism specific,” she says. “These will be with organizations or companies that have specific challenges they want to solve that using data and connected technologies will be able to build solutions.”
Mirko Crevatin, senior consultant and program manager at T4G who’s working on the project says it allow Saint John to collect and monetize and use its data, as opposed to paying on an outside source to do it for them.
“For a lot of people, this project is difficult to understand. They don’t really understand how it will impact them,” says Crevatin. “To me, right now every day, we’re losing autonomy over our data. We’re giving so much of our data away to Google, to Apple, to Facebook to all these companies and we have no control over it. We can’t monetize it and if the city wants the data they’re collecting about its citizens from Google, they can get it, but they have to pay for it.”
Though Saint John may be one of the only cities doing this right now, he says that won’t be the case forever. That’s why it’s important for the city to establish itself as a leader today.
“We don’t know of any other examples of any community doing what we’re doing, but that’s not going to to be forever,” says Crevatin. “There’s clearly an interest in this and we’re certainly not going to be the last. When we go to [Toronto] we hope that if nothing else, the communities come to us and say ‘what are you doing? How are you doing it and can we replicate this?’”
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