The Government of Canada is abuzz with talk of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). With at least 20 departments and agencies interested in making better use of their data, hardly a week goes by without government employees discussing the application and implementation of data analytics and AI in their services and programs. Amid this flurry of action and ideas, public servants must determine how, why, when, and where to enter the analytics and AI playing field.
For the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), that process was made easier with a little help from friends at the National Research Council of Canada's Digital Technologies Research Centre. The CTA, which oversees the large and complex Canadian transportation system for the economic and social well-being of Canadians, first approached the NRC in November 2018.
"With the enormous potential data analytics offers, we had a desire to establish a strong data culture and wanted to get started on the right foot," says Rachael Donovan, Senior Advisor in the Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Directorate at the CTA.
The CTA approached Stéphane Tremblay, Team Leader and Manager of the NRC's Data Analytics Centre, for suggestions about building a data analytics capacity within the CTA's Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Division to underpin evidence-based decision making.
"When people think about data, they imagine a supercomputer crunching numbers. The most important advice I give to companies, research organizations, departments or agencies entering the data space is to take a step back and start at the beginning. Determine your objectives–what do you want to know, achieve, or optimize? Then consider the data itself–are you dealing with numbers, text, images, videos, and how will they be collected? Are there limitations in the collection process? What about privacy, consent, and secondary use? If your organization has existing data, was it collected properly, is it complete and well structured, and will it help you meet your objectives? And usually, with most datasets, an important cleaning and preparation step, as well as the design of customized algorithms that will deliver the insights you are looking for, must take place before any data is crunched."
With over 30 years of experience in AI and data analytics deployed with academia, industry, and government, NRC experts help their collaborators answer these questions and make a plan.
"As more government departments and agencies see the value in using the data available to them to inform their decisions, we encourage them to reach out to the data experts at the NRC for advice and ideas," says Dr. Carolyn Watters, the NRC's Chief Digital Research Officer, who came onboard in February 2019 into a newly created function within Canada's largest federal science organization.
For the CTA, working with the NRC's Data Analytics Centre was an important step in ensuring the right tools and skill sets were in place to support a modernized and effective compliance assurance program using a risk-based, data-driven approach to decision making.
"Working with the NRC has helped us build a strong foundation that supports ongoing improvements to the data we collect and how we analyze it. That better informs the work we do to promote, verify and enforce compliance by the air, rail, marine and interprovincial bus transportation entities we regulate."
The NRC's Chief Digital Research Officer is engaging with federal organizations and exploring how NRC expertise can help them adopt a data and AI culture. "The NRC can play a key role in advancing the government's priorities in AI, digital, and data, and our doors are open to the federal family," says Dr. Watters. "If you've got questions about where to start, or you're thinking about collaborating with our experts, we'd like to hear from you."
About the Agency:
The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator that has, with respect to all matters necessary for the exercise of its jurisdiction, all the powers of a superior court. The CTA has three core mandates: helping to keep the national transportation system running efficiently and smoothly, protecting the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to accessible transportation services, and providing consumer protection for air passengers. To help advance these mandates, the CTA makes and enforces ground rules that establish the rights and responsibilities of transportation service providers and users and level the playing field among competitors, resolves disputes using a range of tools from facilitation and mediation to arbitration and adjudication, and ensures that transportation providers and users are aware of their rights and responsibilities and how the CTA can help them.
NRC Data Analytics Centre
Team Leader and Facility Manager, Data Analytics Centre
Digital Technologies Research Centre
National Research Council of Canada
NRC Chief Digital Research Officer
Dr. Carolyn Watters
Chief Digital Research Officer
National Research Council of Canada
CTA Chief Compliance Officer
Determinations and Compliance Branch
Canadian Transportation Agency