Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 11, 2018— Halifax, NS

Hosted by Lisa Setlakwe
Area of Focus: Trust and Privacy

Highlights of Discussion

Globally, we are going through a technological revolution and we don’t know exactly what it will bring. Disruption will present new jobs and new opportunities yet it can be difficult to prepare for things we can’t predict. Education using a multi-disciplinary approach that promotes adaptability and continuous learning is key to success. While Canadian institutions are moving this way, we need to evolve quicker to keep pace.

For businesses, digital and data-driven innovation provides a competitive advantage and is a necessity for global growth, however some businesses are hesitant and require greater awareness of the benefits. Data is a valuable resource with numerous applications. We must ensure a robust trust and privacy framework that protects data while still breaking down siloes and stimulating innovative data practices. Canada has a strong regulatory regime, however, we must continue to be proactive and maintain the right balance between protection and innovation.

The Government has a key role to play in creating the infrastructure and marketplace frameworks to support digital innovation, and can show urgency through targeted funding.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Regulatory Environment
Canada has a positive global reputation on privacy with a good mix of protection and private sector responsiveness. We must continue to build on this foundation to keep pace with the impacts of digital and data transformation. However, we must ensure a balance and not allow public pressure around high-profile incidents to create reactionary measures.
Data management
Businesses see the value in data and want to protect businesses access to data, however, the issue is complex. There is a steep learning curve on how best to manage data and what the rules are globally (eg. GDPR). Many companies are moving from privately held cloud platform to publically held platforms to mitigate these risks. There is a need for greater awareness at both the management and employee levels on how to manage and utilize data within companies.
Multi-disciplinary Skills
Traditional education provides great depth on a subject, however, needs to also develop complementary soft skills (communication, project management, team work, etc). With the rapid pace of technology it will be important to train people to adapt. It could also be beneficial to integrate training in other complementary fields. For example, a disconnect exists between those with technical and sales skills. We must also work to instill a continuous learning approach to education, so people continue to upgrade their skills and approach learning positively at a later age.
How to reskill those who are displaced due to digital and data transformation is a concern for many businesses and workers. However, RBC’s Humans Wanted report reflects the possibility of shifting focus from credentials to core skills. This approach allows for a more fluid interpretation of where a person’s skillset can be employed and may limit the amount of retraining necessary to shift careers.
Skill Shortage
Many companies are looking to grow their workforce yet can’t find the right skills and must compete for a small pool of applicants or look outside Canada. We must look at building greater awareness of the jobs of the future for young Canadians, and bolstering STEM and digital skills. However, businesses can’t wait 10+ years for these programs. Some companies are working to bring students in early, and transfer learning to directly within their company. In other countries, businesses will fund schooling in exchange for students signing on to work post-graduation.
Post-Secondary Institutions
Universities are still siloed and have difficulty adjusting to build new, multi-disciplinary systems (minimum 3 years to build). Besides the limitations of physical infrastructure, Universities also struggle to find adequate teaching staff as they must compete for highly trained individuals. Colleges are adjusting to fill gaps, allowing more hands on approach, integrating with industry and offering timely programs (ie: data science). Colleges can be a great resource for those looking to reskill. Both colleges and universities offer benefits, and building easier cross-walks between the two would be beneficial for students (eg. portability of credits between colleges and universities).
Different Learning Options
People are looking for new and diverse ways to learn. Many are learning skills through avenues such as bootcamps, internships, self-taught, etc. Online training options are good for those in rural and remote areas, or those who need to learn on a flexible schedule. Library programs are a great resource for community members who aren’t able to afford post-secondary education. We should not expect a one size fits all solution.
Diversity and Women in STEM
Women are still an untapped resource in STEM and tech, however, women are still not choosing these career paths. Some aren’t aware of opportunities, however, tech environment is still relatively unwelcoming for women. We need to shift this culture to increase retention of women. Mentors and role models are important for younger woman and exposure needs to be early and often. Companies must have policies that encourage and support a culture of diversity, but must also walk the walk (concrete actions).
Canada, in particular Atlantic Canada, has a strong research culture and good supports, however, difficulty turning research in to viable commercial products or start-ups. This may be tied to issues of intellectual privacy (IP) as there remains inconsistency around how IP policies are handled by institutions. Some policies are unclear leading to confusion for businesses, and some institutions have a protectionist mentality.
Culture of Risk Aversion
It can be difficult for a business to work with personalized data. Many businesses have internal privacy personnel who often come at the issue from a legal standpoint. While important, this often leads to a ‘worst-case scenario’ style approach which hinders innovation. We must look at data sharing and benefits of data with a multi-dimensional approach that weighs accurately the risks and rewards.
Tech Adoption
Some more traditional sectors may not fully understand how digitization applies to them or the benefits it can bring. They may also not have the capacity internally to implement. This could make them resistant to changing the status quo. Low-skill workers are also fearful of losing their jobs to new technology and can create a culture of resistance.
Government Programs
Government programs like Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) and Innovative Solutions Canada are helpful however we must ensure these programs are responsive as start-ups often don’t have capacity or time for burdensome application processes. Additionally, the government has developed resources (eg. through MITACS) which might not be well known or used sufficiently. Government could look to better promote these resources.
Digital Infrastructure
Access to fast and reliable broadband impacts the ability to do business, access educational resources, connect socially, etc. Those with no access in rural areas risk being shut out of the economy. In addition, as companies move from internal data storage to public cloud storage, data centre infrastructure is also becoming incredibly important.
Resources for Seniors
Seniors without access to technology are at a greater risk for isolation. While connectivity and digital literacy for young Canadians is important, we must not forget older adults. Retirees are a vibrant part of a community, many who are small business owners or volunteers. In order to participate in a digital and data driven society, they may require additional education, tools, and accommodation as well as basic internet connectivity.

Ideas / Outcomes

Canada as a Trusted Nation
Canada is globally known as a trusted nation. This can be used by businesses to differentiate us from other competitors. We should leverage this in areas that are highly reliant on trust, such as blockchain technology. There seems to be a lot of buy-in from industry around blockchain as a solution. Canada could grow this sector based on our reputation to become a world leader on blockchain platforms.
Knowledge Transfer
In an increasingly global market, Canada is looking to partner with other countries to help commercialization and get ideas to market. However, Canada must ensure that any incentives that exist to build these partnerships includes a knowledge sharing component. This will help make sure that other entrepreneurs within Canada can benefit from best practices and lessons learned from these partnerships.  
Holistic Data Sets
Should look to break down barriers between data sets. Medical breakthroughs could be driven by the use of large holistic datasets, ie:  bringing together medical data with related health info (genetic, diet, exercise, social indicators, etc.).

Attendee List

  1. Port Halifax
  3. Maple Wave
  4. Halifax Public Libraries
  5. Dalhousie, Research Chair
  6. Techsploration
  7. Flamm Consulting
  8. McInnis Cooper
  9. Digital Nova Scotia
  10. RIMOT.IO Inc.