Data Catalyst - InnovationThe beginnings of the Community Geomatics Centre (CGC) in Sault Ste. Marie more than 10 years ago is a tale of simple, serendipitous discovery and a true belief in the value of collaboration.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (work with me here), two public organizations—the local utility and the municipality—realized that they were both seeking new data management tools and analytics capabilities at the same time!

Both recognized the inefficiencies of procuring solutions individually and so they decided to collaborate and develop a shared resource for the community of Sault Ste. Marie. This resource would allow them to share the costs of a managed data warehouse, enhance their capacity to develop sound analytics and, where it made sense, integrate their data to improve service delivery and planning.

Rather than hosting this shared resource at one of the founding institutions, they decided that the CGC would be managed by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC), which was established to provide support and resources to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Algoma region.

The Community Information Utility was born!

The best part is that this fairytale partnership has evolved into a truly community-based resource. Since the collaborative vision of the founding organizations took root, more than 30 organizations in the region have become partners of the CGC. At the core of the CGC is a mandate to “promote and establish the partnerships and technological means to efficiently share geospatial data, tools and knowledge amongst community organizations to create safer, healthier and more prosperous communities.”

Each organization benefits from sharing the costs of the basic data management and analytics capacity that the CGC provides but, more than that, the integration of geospatial data from all partners has generated invaluable insight into the root causes of particular challenges facing the community as well as highlighting unique opportunities that the community can harness and develop.

“Enormous amounts of data are being shared by all organizations to solve enterprise and inter-enterprise issues.”

Developing data partnerships is hard work and requires more than a wave of your fairy godmother’s magic wand. (At the CGC, data access and integration permissions are established and managed based on each partner organization’s privacy regulations, and then data is linked at the postal code, neighbourhood or census tract area.) But, this open innovation model is pure magic and proves that data collaborations between organizations can significantly reduce costs and increase value for organizations that, on their own, would never have been able to access the level of insight that the integrated data provides.

The CGC reports that the integration of municipal, utility and health data has been particularly fruitful: “Early results have indicated improvements in public safety and health delivery, reductions in municipal liabilities and more effective use of budgetary resources.”

In 2012, the CGC received Esri Canada’s Award of Excellence for the development of a Vulnerable Persons Registry that combines data from a variety of registries tracking vulnerable populations in Sault Ste. Marie with utility and emergency response data to support proactive response in times of crisis and increase public safety. It is the first registry of its kind in Canada and is generating a lot of interest. Read about it on Esri’s website.

To learn more about CGC’s partners and projects, check out their website or contact Paul Beach at pbeach@ssmic.com.

Andrea Hamilton

Andrea is the former Partnership Manager for MaRS Data Catalyst. In her role, she helped launch the Innovation Data Partnership, bringing together all the regional innovation centres in Ontario to make better decisions using their data. See more…