In June, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report on probably the most valuable commodity in Canada today: data.

“In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario” explores how Ontario could “unlock opportunities and manage the threats of its increasingly data-driven economy.”

The report also highlights how data is a double-edged sword, requiring companies to keep personal information safe for the protection of their customers, and also to use it ethically and legally to drive their business forward. As Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst at the OCC and author of the report says:

“It is incumbent on the private and public sector to work together to create an environment that encourages data-driven innovation while protecting against these very real challenges.”


Report highlights

The report highlights several points:

  • Businesses and other organizations have an important role to play to ensure their own privacy practices enhance public trust.
  • Cybersecurity breaches are affecting organizations of all kinds, and more can be done to build capacity and limit future attacks.
  • Data sharing is an opportunity to improve efficiencies and spur innovation across the economy.
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a competitive advantage that Ontario should leverage.

Central to this is the legislation around collecting data and what can be done with it.


Data gathering regulations

Businesses, organisations and individuals involved in commercial activity must abide by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), overseen by the The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC).

However, this Act is somewhat out of date. The Government of Canada announced in 2019 its intention to modernize PIPEDA, the Privacy Act, the Competition Act, and the Statistics Act. The report suggests that the introduction of new rules similar to the GDPR rules in the EU could increase the compliance burden on smaller firms. The report also highlights the challenges of getting customer’s meaningful consent (central to the current legislation) when data can be gathered by a whole new generation of electronic devices, from wearable exercise trackers to smart kitchen appliances.


Data sharing: the new normal

Before the pandemic, much of our health and personal data was held in information silos, preventing the bigger picture being seen. The pandemic changed that, giving a common goal and purpose to the sharing of relevant data to track the spread of the virus. Equally, researchers across the globe are sharing data and findings to speed up the process of finding an effective vaccine.

Open data takes this concept of sharing one step further, allowing citizens access to government data to “improve transparency and spur innovation”. The Government of Ontario has committed to an open data by default approach, so in theory anything that is not restricted or sensitive can be shared. This gives companies and organizations access to a diverse range of data to study, make new connections, find new relationships between data sets, and use this to formulate their own innovative approaches and products.

For this to be effective in these fast-changing times, it needs to happen fast, however. As the report says:

“Data scientists would much prefer to see government data released early and messy than later in a standardized format, allowing them to cleanse the data according to their unique needs.”


Using data to grow your business

What data does your company collect? Who looks at it? Is it reported on and analyzed, or stored and forgotten?

Most companies use data they gather themselves to shed light on their customer’s buying habits – what they buy, when, how much. That in turn informs their marketing strategies for various demographics and customer types. Seven months into 2020, there are also important information in that data for how the pandemic changed those habits. This can help your business assess the impact of the pandemic beyond the bottom line of income or sales.

From looking at the changes from normal patterns in the latest data, your business could develop strategies to cover various future scenarios, from another full lockdown to localized actions around major stores or depots. That level of analysis and planning will give your business the flexibility to adapt when other companies are still working out what they need to do.


Big data and your business

How much storage do you have on your phone? Your computer? Your iPad? The question is largely irrelevant in the age of almost limitless storage. One of the results of much bigger storage capabilities (and more efficient broadband and wifi) is that storing lots of data is easy, and cheap.

This applies particularly to remote monitoring where data can be delivered in real time almost continuously, rather than at set times. Brewers can know from second to second what the temperature of their fermenting beer is, with the data viewed in their phone or tablet offsite. Bridge builders know how their structures are reacting to every little breath of wind in real time. So, unusual patterns that might be early indicators of problems can be flagged up before the problem spirals out of control.


Big data for small businesses

For smaller businesses, big data may be available but not immediately seen as useful. Smart businesses work out what they are able to know, how to measure it, and then how to analyse it for their benefit. It could be simply noting how many people enter or leave your store, against how many sales you make. Staff may notice this anecdotally, but a data set of entry and exit movement would be more reliable. That in turn could help you work out if you need more staff, a faster payment methods, or need to rearrange the store better to bring people in for longer.


Micro data and your business

Microdata is the opposite of big data. It’s personal to each individual, and it’s what surveys collect every day. Only when the data is aggregated does it give the whole picture. For your business, knowing what individual customers feel may be crucial.

If people don’t like the new social distancing measures in your shop because they have to queue in the most airless part of your store, for example, they are more likely to tell you at a microdata level. With so many college students not returning to studies until the autumn, now is the perfect time to employ them to do a little data gathering for your business. A simple survey app on an iPad can enable your data collectors to social distance and store data ready for analysis within seconds.

Equally, if you have a company intranet or app, you can survey your own employees quickly and easily to discover more about how they see the new measures working (or not).


More data on big data

Want to know more about big data: Try these resources:


Your data and your local Chamber

If you are a member and want to know what information we retain on you and your business, just call us at your local Chamber of Commerce. Or why not update your Directory entry to better reflect your business as the pandemic restrictions ease? That’s data your customers will definitely want to see!