Magic in the Making
Merging business acumen, informed insight, and advanced technology for organizational prosperity
A leader in innovation and business solutions, ISM Canada is now the first Canadian company offering its customers the full-service benefits of an “end-to-end” data hub.
The unique service takes customers’ business problems, incorporates appropriate data sets, securely hosts and manages the data, integrates and then analyzes that data, and provides customers with not only the resulting insight, but also assistance in using that insight to achieve their identified outcomes.
“It’s exciting to be able to provide customers with a full service offering that allows them to move right from business problem to informed action and outcome,” said Mark MacLeod of ISM Canada.
Regina-based ISM Canada grew out of a technology company with more than 40 years in the industry. Now a western Canadian firm with offices in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, and BC, ISM has, over the past number of years, been transformed into a leading business solutions and innovation company offering customers tailored solutions to challenging business problems.
Why a data hub?
Data hubs offer a unique ability to help organizations move from a problem through to the delivery of targeted outcomes.
Data hubs collect, integrate and analyze a wide variety of data sets, providing insight to individuals and organizations, and enabling them to intervene before a predicted incident occurs. Data hubs also often bring together industry, government, academia and community, to deliver a broader collective impact on an identified issue or initiative.
To provide benefits, there’s much more required than just data collection. Before data can be collected an understanding of key business challenges and outcomes targeted is critical. Once the appropriate data sets have been identified and the data collected, anonymized, integrated and analyzed, it must then be securely stored and hosted, leveraging the appropriate technology and security practices. At this point the insight from the resulting data output is used to achieve the targeted outcomes.
“It’s a highly specialized, customer-centric process… and we’re the only company in the country that does it all. Our background as a technology company that transitioned into a business solutions firm, that has a mature analytics team, a multi-million dollar platform for secure data analysis, and a robust business consulting practice, provides us with the skill sets and expertise to deliver this service successfully,” said Mark MacLeod, CEO ISM Canada.
As well MacLeod emphasizes that to address the needs of its customers, ISM is now heavily involved in staying ahead of the curve in relation to skills, data and technology in this field. The company is working with universities, NSERC (The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) and Mitacs (a non-profit, national research organization that manages and funds research and training programs for undergraduate, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in partnership with universities, industry and government in Canada) on analytics research, and is in an ongoing process of hiring emerging experts in the analytics field.
Why does that matter?
According to Mark MacLeod – this work matters because it has the potential to make vast differences in a wide array of areas: from Human Services to Land and Water, and Ag and Food, among others.
“Just imagine if we were able to help a youth-at-risk facility, identify when a youth would experience a serious and potentially violent episode…BEFORE it happened --- well we’re doing that now,” said MacLeod.
This unique process takes unstructured text data from youth-at-risk profile reports in a youth facility, anonymizes it, integrates it with data on current youth residents, and analyzes the results. The findings have enabled youth facility staff to identify patterns and trends in youth behaviours, allowing youth workers to forecast a youth’s risk level based on recent events. Because we are now able to predict behavior, youth workers are able to take proactive, preventative actions.
“It’s these potentially life-altering projects that really underscore the critical importance of the work we are able to do, because we have integrated our data hubs with our business solutions, analytics and managed technology services teams,” said MacLeod.
MacLeod firmly believes that the way in which we deal globally with social programming and the environment is changing rapidly. It is his contention that to both keep-up and to manage that change, we need the ability to define where we are, where we want to be, and how the behaviours we currently use impact our ability to achieve our desired outcomes.
Creating the first data hub
ISM’s first end-to-end Saskatchewan data hub was created through a partnership between ISM and a provincial government in 2016. A joint investment of $10M over five years by the partners initiated the Social Innovation Hub, which became ISM’s first in a series of data hubs. Just two years into the five-year partnership, the joint venture has already resulted in the creation of nearly 40 new highly skilled jobs at ISM Canada alone, and an entirely new advanced analytics service team, the Insight to Impact Team.
As the number of ISM data hubs, and the associated end-to end services grow, it is projected that ISM, the province and organizations associated with data hub projects, will also see significant job growth.
It’s all about outcomes
Karlee Armstead, Associate Director (Human Services) of ISM’s Insight to Impact analytics team says ISM’s ability to use the benefits of a data hub in its end-to end service makes all the difference in helping organizations to effectively achieve their targeted goals.
“It’s really the full end-to-end process that makes this so effective. Although the use of advanced analytics plays a huge role in the outcomes accomplished, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the results we’re seeing with just the data on its own.”
According to Armstead, many organizations don’t realize the value that exists in their systems of record data, and are often surprised with the insight gained through the use of tools such as text analytics and data matching, when introduced to ISM’s data hub and Insight to Impact team.
She says it’s the ability to help organizations achieve their desired results which makes the work so appealing.
“It’s really exciting work, because all of what we do is about making a difference for the organizations we work with and the individuals they serve,” she said.
Growing the potential
The success of ISM’s first data hub, the Social Innovation Hub, led to the creation of a second hub, ISM’s Land and Water hub, and to the creation of a third hub, ISM’s Ag and Food Hub, which is still in development.
Already a series of projects have seen significant successes by leveraging ISM’s end-to-end service through both the Social Innovation Hub (including a mental health project which is a new extension of the Social Innovation Hub), and through ISM’s Land and Water, and Ag and Food hubs.
Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Water Project
In 2017 ISM began work with the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association and Ontario-based Aquanty Inc. on the development of a unique new hydrology model of the Assiniboine River Basin. The model was created to help to inform land managers, government, and stakeholders as they work on flood and drought mitigation. It pulled together a range of data sets, providing the ability to predict how changes to the land, land use practices, and the weather, will work to prevent or assist floods or droughts in future.
ISM was involved in creating a tool that is now being used to pull together different data sets, with resulting information outputs that are useful for decision makers in the environmental field. It is also able to provide flood and drought predictions in response to any question relating to the data it holds. The model is now being used by land managers, governments, and stakeholders as a critical decision-support tool in the work to mitigate the impacts of flood and drought in the Assiniboine River Basin.
South Nations Water Project
ISM Canada worked with Aquanty, and Ontario’s South Nation Conservation Authority, on a project which will offer far reaching benefits for environmental agencies, communities and residents across this country.
The project constructed a real-time hydrologic predictive forecasting platform for the South Nation Watershed in eastern Ontario.
One of 36 provincial Conservation Authorities in Ontario, South Nation oversees a watershed of more than 4,300 square kilometers. Its mandate is to manage and protect the watershed, and to regularly provide flooding and drought information to municipalities and emergency service organizations within its region. Prior to the project, it based its short-term weather predictions on data collected from two weather stations in the vicinity of the watershed; from seven stream flow gauges throughout the South Nation River and its tributaries; and from in-person site visits by Authority employees.
However, as extreme weather events became more frequent, the Authority began looking for a tool to enable a much more reliable approach to predicting serious weather incidents.
In the project ISM integrated weather data with the information collected from the two data stations and seven stream flow gauges, and real-time ground water and soil moisture data was integrated into model.
The platform created as a result of the project, is now being used to help guide surface water management practices within the watershed, with a focus on flood and drought mitigation.
Income Assistance Redesign
ISM worked with a Canadian province on an Income Assistance Redesign project. The project was created to achieve a better understanding of the province’s income assistance clients. It focused on tapping into previously unavailable data (such as open-text fields) to provide insight into clients’ circumstances and their use of other human service programs. The intent of the project was to enable the province’s income assistance program to better target services to groups of individuals with similar needs.
The project used in-depth text mining of anonymized Income Assistance intake forms and case notes in more than 200 categories and sub-categories including addictions, education levels achieved, career choices, and more. The open text categories were then combined with anonymized data from other provincial ministries to identify potential companions of income assistance clients, in order to better tailor programming to support appropriate clients in their move to self-reliance, and to determine client segments that could benefit from targeted programming to improve the long-term success of these client groups and individuals.
The future – Not if, but when
MacLeod argues that the use of data, artificial intelligence and data hubs in combination with strategic business planning tools and services, are the future.
“There’s too much at stake now to continue running programs in the human services and environmental fields that we think will work, when we can tailor programs and services using advanced analytics and insight tools such as data hubs which give us a much higher probability of what will work,” he said.
MacLeod says ISM is taking a leadership role in this space because it not only makes good business sense, but also because it makes good moral sense. His moto, “ISM is a company that does well because it does good”, underscores his philosophy that the company’s growth is based on work and projects that make a difference for organizations and communities.
“We can either be affected by the world or we can affect the world, it’s our choice. The second instance gives us some control, the first provides us with nothing,” he said.
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