Fireside chat: Technicity GTA – Leveraging the power of data

Last week at Technicity GTA, ITWC chief information officer Jim Love was joined by Nicole Cooper, the director of legislative and information services/clerk of the City of Ajax, to discuss ways to make data visual and useful for people to use.

As open data gained traction 8-10 years ago, the City of Ajax, like many municipalities, got on board by launching an open data site, Cooper explained. However, the site was used primarily by professionals like journalists and academics who knew how to harness that data in meaningful ways. Open data was not very useful to the average citizen just looking for information about the community.

Cooper described how her team leveraged data visualization software like Microsoft Power BI and Canadian GIS ( geographic information system) mapping software Esri to reveal patterns, insights and solutions for people in ways that are not possible with a tabular or unstructured format of data.

“We’re starting to turn our minds to data as a key corporate asset, and we’re looking for creative ways to take these big data sets, make them easily accessible, and use them to provide insights into our business,” stated Cooper.

Examples of use cases and benefits of a data visualization software at a municipal level tested by Cooper’s team include:

– fire prevention program, allowing the fire department to visualize fire related incidents and patterns over the years, and improve their emergency preparedness, response and risk reduction

Town of Ajax fire incidents mapping application

– Interactive mapping application highlighting the locations and various capital projects being proposed for 2023 budget.

– Hundreds of years of unstructured data on council and committee decisions placed into database format through Power BI dashboard.

Town of Ajax council and committee decisions on Power Bi dashboard

– Accountability tool to track progress on workloads and organizational performance

– Eliminate the need for citizens to sift through pages and documents to find information relevant to them

One of the main challenges when expediting these projects is harnessing valuable data that is in an unstructured and unusable format, and transferring them into data that can be displayed, manipulated and filtered, Cooper said.

Furthermore, as municipalities capitalize on the power of data, the need for the right talent is key, so issues with recruitment and retention arise.

These projects, however, remain attainable by municipalities of any size, Cooper affirmed. The tools are not very expensive and the skill set needed is not very intense. Municipalities can start by identifying a business problem that can be solved with data, proceed with developing an idea, implementing the right tools and recruiting the right talent.

View the entire session here.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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