What Sets the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster Apart?


Published on digitalsupercluster.ca on February 2, 2018.

Greg Caws, President of the Premier’s Technology Council in British Columbia, shares how the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster is positioned to create opportunity for Canada.

What is the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster?

The world is rapidly moving to a digital economy. For Canada to succeed, we must be faster, smarter and more collaborative in inventing, developing and applying digital technologies. The volume and complexity of data is growing exponentially, providing opportunities for Canadian companies of all sizes to create additional value through their data and business processes.

Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster will focus on data collection, analysis and visualization to scale Canadian innovation companies and drive the competitiveness of firms, creation of jobs and new opportunity through the use of data. Because the data is increasingly complex, the analysis will need new visualization tools so that we can understand it and make better, informed business decisions.

Starting with a focus on the west coast in British Columbia, the Supercluster will engage companies, innovators, citizens and hubs to make the digital future a competitive advantage for Canada.

How will the Digital Technology Supercluster benefit Canada?

Job creation. More jobs will be created from advancements in digital technology than in any other sector. As well as good paying jobs in urban centres, in remote areas that have Internet, technology enables digital jobs to exist where they have never been before. Recognizing that jobs evolve, the supercluster specifically addresses talent initiatives and places a priority on diversity and First Nations involvement.

Future competition spurred. All industries are tech industries now. This means that no matter what line of business you are in, you will see increased competition from businesses that are implementing technology. Many businesses may not see themselves as digital but technology creates new ways of doing things. For example, AirBnB is the largest accommodation company in the world, but it owns no property. Its digital platform disrupts because it’s easier to use, less expensive and it enables people who previously had no access to a global market the ability to participate. Unless you embrace the digital world, it will come out of the blue, from a direction you don’t expect.

Unite communities so they can share common interests. The momentum around growing technology will create a community with common interests, creating synergies that would not otherwise happen. For example, solutions to mining problems could be applied to healthcare or to aviation. Take the issue of queues and wait times, for example. This challenge could be solved across the board with new, shared technology solutions.

Modernization. Synergies formed through the supercluster will help traditional industries leverage advanced digital technologies and become more competitive internationally. This will in turn create will create more exports, more demand and the spin-off is more work for more people no matter where they are located.

What's the differentiator of this supercluster and the value being created?

By definition, a supercluster builds on a series of clusters that are already world class. The idea is to focus on we’re already really good at, and take it to the next level. Clusters included have a concentrated density of skills and talent in a particular area.

What sets the digital technology supercluster apart is that it is built around technology platforms that span industries. So rather than being tied to one specific industry, like mining, aviation or health, digital technology can transform many industries simultaneously – it cuts across them all.

The net effect is that the talent and skills required for transformation are focused on leveraging data, analytics and visualization and it is this density and mash-up that is our advantage. With data being created every day, there is great power in leveraging it through advanced analytics and making it understandable across every industry.

A major aspect of this supercluster is improving application of data visualization technology to better deal with complex information. Traditionally data has been presented in 2D graphs or bar charts. Adding virtual and mixed reality to the equation and superimposing information from the surrounding environment takes data analytics to the next level. Your mind is already attuned to processing 3-D information. Since this is the world we live in, presenting data in this form makes it accessible to everyone.

Why the momentum and increased participation around this initiative?

A lot of companies are forward looking. They see that more digital technology aspects are factoring into what they’re working on. This is true whether you’re in retail, manufacturing or health for example. There is an increased urgency for businesses to better understand and leverage the data they collect. This supercluster provides the skills and knowledge to deal with this opportunity.

Structured to unstructured data for competitive advantage

In the old days, companies stored all their data in “data warehouses”. All the data was pre-filtered, bundled, organized, and analyzed with a defined structure in mind. The problem with relying on structured data is that you end up throwing a lot of valuable information away. A good example is when you take a photo and end up with a picture as well as a host of metadata. The focal length, aperture, time of day, GPS location and direction the photographer was pointing all play into the final result of the photo.

Unstructured data is the new way – but this means you need to keep and analyze everything. Today “clouds” on the internet store “data lakes” (Google is a large data lake) and provides a transformative opportunity for innovators to create new breakthroughs. A Fitbit is a great example. The device stores all the data about you and your fitness activity. If you pair this with the information from your doctor, suddenly you have a much more holistic picture of your health.

Today, organizations around the world are collecting massive amounts of data in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of their operations and new opportunities. But many are unsure of what to do with the information. Adding in technologies like AI and machine learning to work with this data will help organizations find correlations and causations to yield a much richer picture. Running it through leading edge visualization technologies, something we already have in our smartphones for example – will make the complex information accessible. All this will impact all our lives in a better way through things like personalized health care, safer transportation, rewarding careers and so much more.

Growing participation

Participation in the initiative continues to accelerate every week – we have over 200 companies involved now. There is a real draw in creating a community of like interests focused on the common goal of advancing data and digital technologies. This momentum is what’s going to drive this supercluster across BC and Canada.

At the end of the day, by making BC a destination for organizations around the world as the place to go to makes sense of the growing data tsunami. It will create massive growth and new opportunities for BC, Canada and all our citizens.

Want to get involved? We’re looking for projects to contribute to the Supercluster. Read more about the criteria we’re looking for and submit your ideas using this form.