WATERLOO — For a company like Desire2Learn in Kitchener, which provides software platforms for educators to build learning content and evaluate student results, it's all about the quality of the data.
"We do a lot of work with predictive analytics," says Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer at Desire2Learn. "Using data from classrooms, we can predict whether a student will drop out or fail, and that allows the schools to do intervention or address the risk factors early on."
The more types of data that are in that equation, the better those predictions become, he adds. "So we see huge potential for broader data sets to provide better and more accurate insights."
That's just one example of numerous private sector opportunities the federal government hopes to foster by investing in the Open Data Exchange, a project that will help existing enterprises and new startups generate new commercial applications using open data sets.
Open data sets in the public sector might include the weather data from Environment Canada; geodetic data on land measurements from Natural Resources Canada, or the economic and employment sector data sets from Statistics Canada.
Federal cabinet minister Tony Clement announced $3 million in funding on Tuesday at Open Text in Waterloo to help establish the Open Data Exchange.
The project will operate through Communitech and will be temporarily housed at Open Text Corporation in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park until the exchange finalizes plans for a permanent home in Waterloo.
The project partners, including Desire2Learn, Open Text and the University of Waterloo, are contributing an additional $3 million toward the $6-million project costs. The government's $3-million contribution is coming through FedDev Ontario.
The hope is to generate an additional $50 million in venture capital and other financing to help incubate and support new data-driven companies in Canada.
It will be a nationwide initiative, with the exchange doing outreach through the Canadian Digital Media Network's 31 technology hubs to engage entrepreneurs across the country who can develop commercial uses for the data.
The hope is to incubate 15 new data-driven companies and create 370 direct and indirect jobs.
Tom Jenkins, chair of Open Text, a company that works with clients that generate a huge amount of online content, said he looks forward to seeing the new applications that come from this initiative.
"I look forward to seeing what can happen and how innovative Canadians can be in intermixing public and private data and creating unbelievable apps that we cannot even imagine," Jenkins said.
Clement said there is an international push by governments to make data sets more accessible, and this is "a real game changer" that creates jobs, and fuels creativity and entrepreneurship.
Kevin Tuer, managing director for the Open Data Exchange, said part of the money will be used to develop a platform that will help the private sector discover and access the open data that is available and aggregate public and private data sources to make the information more accessible.
"It will be a one-stop shop for everything open data," Tuer said. He said open data sets can be viewed as a "raw resource," and the Open Data Exchange will help businesses turn that into real-world applications in sectors such as education, transportation, health care and energy.
The Open Data Exchange will have about five team members, but will also be able to use the resources provided by the partners in the project, Tuer said.
"We will be running up to three demonstration projects that will show some private sector applications of open data," Tuer added. "It is all about helping the private sector tap into the open data either for creating new products or augmenting existing products and existing sets of data to derive business intelligence for their companies," he said.
Over time, the private sector might also see opportunities for opening up their own proprietary data sets and sharing them on the exchange, Tuer said. "Then the true nature of the exchange will start to occur where there is the ability to tap into data sources from either the public or the private sector," he said.
The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that open data could generate $3 trillion of value in various areas of the global economy.
Governments around the world are now adopting an "open by default policy" toward the free access to these data sets, Tuer said. "It is up to the community to decide how to turn that data into something of value and to create worth out of it."
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Waterloo Region Record
By Rose Simone