TechnicityTO 2018: Cool tech projects

The afternoon session at Technicity started with a few fast presentations on cool projects going on in the city. Too quick to grab details from the talks, but here’s who we heard from:

  • Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health, and Lawrence ETA, deputy CIO at the city of Toronto, on using AI to drive public health outcomes.
  • Angela Chung, project director at Toronto Employment and Social Services, Children’s Services, Shelter Support and Housing, on client-centric support through service platform integration.
  • Matthew Tenney, data science and visualization team supervisor, on IoT from streetcars to urban forestry for applications such as environmental data sensing.
  • Arash Farajian, policy planning consultant, on Toronto Water’s use of GIS, smart sensors, drones (aerial and submersible) and augmented reality.

The rest of the afternoon was the 10th annual Toronto’s Got IT Awards of Excellence, but unfortunately I had to duck out for other meetings, so that’s it for my Technicity 2018 coverage.

TechnicityTO 2018: CIO @RobMeikle keynote

Rob Meikle, CIO at the city of Toronto, gave a fast-paced and inspiring keynote to close out the morning at Technicity. I can’t do justice to his talk here (hopefully there will be a video, because he’s a great speaker), but a few points did resonate with me.

  • There’s a correlation between digital access and socioeconomic level, and we need to use technology to drive digital inclusion.
  • Interactions between government and constituents needs to be more digital and more responsive.
  • The most inclusive cities are the most successful.
  • Focus on meaningful and measurable outcomes to make the city prosperous.
  • IT organization is being reworked to support a digital city model.
  • Policies need to be transformed faster to keep up with data usages: innovation is in policies, not just technology.
  • Increasing digital literacy is a mandate for the city in order to benefit residents.
  • The city creates a lot of opportunities, but also needs to focus on outcomes to benefit all residents — such as the one in four children in the city who live in poverty.

Good focus on how public sector technology should focus on social good as well as making government more efficient.

If I see a link to the video published, I’ll come back and update this post.

TechnicityTO 2018: Administrative Penalty System case study

We had a quick review of the City’s Administrative Penalty System (APS), which lets you pay or dispute your parking ticket online, with a panel made up of Lenny Di Marco, senior systems integrator; Kelli Chapman, director of prosecution services; and Susan Garossino, director of court services.

Technologically, this was a challenge to integrate old COBOL systems and newer systems across both city and provincial agencies, but there was also a cultural change to do some level of dispute resolution online rather than in the courts. Paying online isn’t new (I seem to remember paying a ticket online years ago when I still had a car), but the process of requesting a review and appealing a review result now happens in a matter of weeks rather than years. In addition to the obvious benefit of a timely outcome – which is better for citizens to get things sorted out, for the city in terms of resolving tickets faster, and for police officers who don’t have to attend court if the issue is resolved online — this also frees up court time for more serious charges. It’s still possible to do this in person, but a lot of people don’t have the time to get to a city office during business hours, or don’t want to go through the face-to-face process.

This is not just a matter of keeping up with regular day-to-day parking violations, but managing peaks that occur when the city has ticketing blitzes (usually caused when an elected official wants to make a statement about being tough on parking offenders).

The whole project took 12-14 months from inception to rollout, and is based on integrating and extending their COBOL back end and other existing systems, rather than purchasing new technology or bringing in outside help. Definitely some technology challenges, but also assessing the needs of the stakeholders from the city, the province and the police so that they can do their job including the new online review and adjudication roles.

Cool stuff, even if you don’t like paying parking tickets. Sounds like they’re already working on another integration project for next year related to Vision Zero, although we didn’t get the details.

TechnicityTO 2018: Innovative Toronto

The second session at today’s Technicity conference highlighted some of the technology innovation going on at the city, with a panel featuring Grant Coffey, director of strategy and program management at the City of Toronto; Tina Scott, Blockchain proof of concept lead for the city; and Gabe Sawhney, executive director of Code for Canada and a representative for Civic Hall Toronto. Jim Love, CIO of IT World Canada, moderated.

There are a number of different technology innovations underway at the city: some of them are public services, such as public WiFi and the offerings of Code for Canada and Civic Hall, while others are about how the city does business internally and with its commercial partners, such as blockchain in procurement processes.

Civic Hall has some interesting programs for connecting city government with other organizations for the purpose of building solutions together — I’ve been aware of and involved in things like this over several years, and they can yield great results in conjunction with the open data initiative at the city. Toronto also has a Civic Innovation Office as an in-house accelerator to help come up with innovative solutions to tough problems. These private and public programs aren’t in competition: they both foster innovation, and support different constituents in different ways.

Blockchain is starting to gain a foothold in the city through some training and an internal hackathon earlier this year to develop proofs of concept; this provided exposure to both business and technology areas about the potential for blockchain applications. Now, they are trading ideas with some of the other levels of government, such at provincial ministries, about using blockchain, and developing use cases for initial applications. They’re still just coming out of the experimental stage, and are looking at uses such as cross-jurisdictional/cross-organizational information sharing as near-term targets.

It’s not all positive, of course: challenges exist in evolving the city employee culture to take advantage of innovation and do things differently (which is pretty much the same as in private industry), as well as changing policies and governance best practices to be ready for innovation rather than playing catch-up. Sharing success stories is one of the best ways to help promote those changes.

TechnicityTO 2018: Taming Transportation Troubles with Technology

Every year, IT World Canada organizes the Technicity conference in Toronto, providing a technology showcase for the city and an opportunity to hear about some of the things that are happening both in the city government and organizations that operate here. Fawn Annan, president of ITWC, opened the conference and introduced the city manager, Chris Murray for a backgrounder on the city as an economic engine, and how technology enables that.

The sessions started with a panel on transportation technology, moderated by Jaime Leverton, GM of Cogeco Peer 1 and featuring three people from the City of Toronto: Barb Gray, General Manager of Transportation Services; Ryan Landon, Autonomous Vehicle Lead; and Jesse Coleman, Transportation Big Data Team Leader. Erik Mok, Chief Enterprise Architect for the Toronto Transit Commission, is also supposed to be on the panel but not arrived yet: hopefully not delayed on the TTC. 🙂

They spoke about the need for data collection in order to determine how to improve transportation in the city, whether related to personal vehicles, public transit, cycling or walking. In the past, this used to require manual data collection on the street; these days, the proliferation of traffic cameras, embedded sensors and smartphones means that a lot of data is being collected about how people are moving around the streets. This creates a need for understanding how to work with the resulting big data, and huge opportunities for gaining better insights into making the streets more efficient and safer for everyone. Since the city is a big proponent of open data, this means that the data that the city collects is available (in an anonymized format) to anyone who wants to analyze it. The city is trying to do some of this analysis themselves (without the benefit of a data scientist job classification at the city), but the open data initiative means that a lot of commercial organizations — from big companies to startups — are incorporating this into apps and services. For the King Street Pilot, a year-old project that restricts the travel of private cars on our busiest streetcar route in order to prioritize public transit, the city deployed new types of sensors to measure the impact: Bluetooth sensors that track devices, traffic cameras with embedded AI, and more. This allows for unbiased measurement of the actual impact of the pilot (and other initiatives) that can be communicated to constituents.

There are privacy safeguards in place for ensuring that Bluetooth devices that are tracked can’t be traced to an individual on an ongoing basis, but video is a larger issue: in general, intelligence related to the transportation issues is extracted from the video, then the video is discarded. They mentioned the need for privacy by design, that is, building in privacy considerations from the start of any data collection project, not trying to add it on later.

They also discussed some of the smart sensors and signals being used for controlling traffic signals, where the length of the waiting queue of vehicles can influence when the traffic signals change. This isn’t just related to vehicles, however: there’s an impact on pedestrians that use the same intersections, and on public health in terms of people with mobility challenges.

Cities like Seattle, San Francisco and New York, that started with transportation data collection much earlier than Toronto, are doing some innovative things but the panel feels that we’re catching up: there’s an autonomous shuttle project in the works now to fill some of the gaps in our transit system, for example. There’s also some work being done with drones to monitor traffic congestion around special events (presumably both vehicle and pedestrian) in order to understand dispersal patterns.

Interesting audience questions on data storage (Amazon AWS) and standardization of data formats, especially related to IoT.

As a Toronto resident who uses public transit, walks a lot and sometimes even drives, some great information on how big data is feeding into improving mobility for everyone.

Webinar: Unlocking Back Office Value by Automating Processes

I’ve been quiet here for a while – the result of having too much real work, I suppose Winking smile – but wanted to highlight a webinar that I’ll be doing on December 13th with TrackVia and one of their customers, First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation, on automating back office processes:

With between 300 to 800 back-office processes to monitor and manage, it’s no wonder financial services leaders look to automate error-prone manual processes. Yet, IT resources are scarce and reserved for only the most strategic projects. Join Sandy Kemsley, industry analyst, Pete Khanna, CEO of TrackVia, and Sarah Batangan, COO of First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation, for an interactive discussion about how financial services are digitizing the back-office to unlock great economic value — with little to no IT resources.

During this webinar, you’ll learn about:

  • Identifying business-critical processes that need to be faster
  • Key requirements for automating back office processes
  • Role of low-code workflow solutions in automating processes
  • Results achieved by automating back office processes

I had a great discussion with Pete Khanna, CEO of TrackVia, while sitting on a panel with him back in January at OPEX Week, and we’ve been planning to do this webinar ever since then. The idea is that this is more of a conversational format: I’ll do a bit of context-setting up front, then it will become more of a free-flowing discussion between Sarah Batangan (COO of First Guaranty), Pete and myself based around the topics shown above.

You can register for the webinar here.

Unintended consequences (the good kind) of DigitalTransformation with @jkyriakidis

Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO of QRA Corp, spoke at a session at ITWC’s Toronto digital transformation conference on some of the unexpected consequences of technological advances in terms of collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas. QRA is a tech startup in Atlantic Canada, and Kyriakidis’ examples are about how companies in that relatively small (economically) region are encouraging new ways of thinking about solving business problems through these sorts of “collisions”.

Addressing the complexity introduced by advancing technology means that we have to invent new methods and tools: he gave the example in industrial complexity where design moved from paper to computer-aided design, then added electronic design automation when the complexity of where to put which chip overwhelmed human capabilities, and now design verification allows for model-based (requirements-driven) design to be validated before more expensive engineering and production begins.

Another example in precision diagnosis and treatment was around data-driven farming, combining computer vision and big data analytics (plus drone delivery of individual plant treatment) to optimize crop yields.

His third example was of integrating and analyzing a variety of data sources about a specific athlete to allow a coach to optimize training and performance for that athlete in their chosen sport.

His main theme of precision diagnosis and treatment — essentially, doing something different for every case based on the context — can be extended in pretty much any industry: consider the attempts by many consumer-facing companies to customize individual customer experiences. Interesting look at companies that are actually doing it.

FinTech panel at ITWC DigitalTransformation 2018

Lynn Elwood, VP Cloud and Services from OpenText, hosted a panel on FinTech to close out the morning at the ITWC digital transformation conference in Toronto. She started with some background on digital transformation in financial services, where there is still a strong focus on cost reduction, but customer engagement has become more important. She included survey results with a somewhat disappointing view on paperless offices, with more than 75% of the respondents saying that they would not be going paperless for as much as five years or maybe never. Never??!! Maybe just not within the career lifetime of the respondents, but c’mon, never? I understand that digital transformation is not the same as content digitization, but if you’re still running on paper, that’s just going to fundamentally limit the degree of your transformation. At the same time, more than 75% were saying that they plan to use AI already or within the short term (hopefully to replace the people who think that they’re never going to be paperless), and most organizations said that they were equal or better than their peers in digital transformation (statistically unlikely). Unintentionally hilarious.

The panel was made up of Michael Ball, CISO Advisor for a number of firms including Freedom Mobile; Amer Matar, CTO of Moneris (a large Canadian payment processor); and Patrick Vice, partner at Insurance-Canada.ca (an industry organization for P&C insurance). Matar talked about how legacy technology holds back companies: existing companies have the advantage of being established incumbents, but newer players (e.g., Square in the payments market) can enter with a completely new business model and no legacy customers or infrastructure to drag along. Vice talked about how companies can combat this by spinning off separate business units to provide a more streamlined digital experience and brand, such as how Economical Insurance did with Sonnet (a project that I had the pleasure of working on last year), which still uses the established insurance organization behind a modern customer experience. Ball stressed that the legacy systems are evolving at a much slower rate than is required for digital transformation, and the new front ends need to go beyond just putting a friendly UI on the old technology: they need to incorporate new services to present a transformed customer experience.

They had an interesting discussion about security, and how moving to digital business models means that companies need to offer a more secure environment for customers. Many people are starting to look at security (such as two-factor authentication) as a competitive differentiator when they are selecting service providers, and while most people wouldn’t now change their bank just because it didn’t provide 2FA, it won’t be long before that is a decision point. It’s not just about cloud versus on-premise, although there are concerns about hosting Canadian customers’ financial data outside Canada, where financial laws (and government access to data) may be different; it’s about an organization’s ability to assure their customer that their information won’t be improperly accessed while offering a highly secure customer-facing portal. There’s a huge spend on security these days, but that needs to settle down as this becomes just baked into the infrastructure rather than an emergency add-on to existing (insecure) systems.

Good discussion, although it points out that it’s still early days for digital transformation in financial services.

Digital government with @AlexBenay at IT World DigitalTransformation 2018

I’ve attended IT World Canada conferences in Toronto before — easy for me to attend as a local, and some interesting content such as Technicity — and today they’re running a digital transformation conference (that oddly, has the hashtag #digitaltransformation as if that were a unique tag).

Alex Benay, CIO of the government of Canada, gave the opening keynote: with $6B/year in IT spend and more than a few high-profile mistakes under their belt that happened before he arrived in the job in early 2017, he has some views on how to do things better. He’s even written a book about digital government, but given that the federal government takes five years to write requirements, he’ll probably be long retired before we know if any of his predictions come true. He talked about some models of digital government, such as Estonia, and how the government of Canada is attempting to integrate their digital services into our everyday lives by partnering with the private sector: think Transport Canada road alerts built into your GM car, or passport renewal and customs forms triggered by an Expedia booking. He admits to a lot of obstacles, including untrained staff in spite of massive training spends, but also many enablers to reaching their goals, such as changing policies around cloud-first deployments. He finished with five core tenents for any government IT moving forward:

  • Open data by default while protecting citizens
  • Collaborate in the open
  • Grow digital talent
  • Change laws/policies to avoid situations like Facebook/Cambridge Analytica
  • Adapt business models to focus only on meeting user needs (procurement, tech management, service design)

Good principles, and I hope that our government can learn to live by them.

AI and BPM: my article for @Bonitasoft on making processes more intelligent

Part of my work as an industry analyst is to write papers and articles (and present webinars), sponsored by vendors, on topics that will be of interest to their clients as well as a broader audience. I typically don’t talk about the sponsor’s products or give them any sort of promotion; it’s intended to be educational thought leadership that will help their clients and prospects to understand the complex technology environment that we work in.

I’ve recently written an article on AI and BPM for Bonitasoft that started from a discussion we had after I contributed articles on adding intelligent technologies to process management to a couple of books, as well as writing here on my blog and giving a few presentations on the topic. From the intro of the article:

In 2016, I was asked to contribute to the Workflow Management Coalition’s book “Best Practices for Knowledge Workers.” My section, “Beyond Checklists”, called for more intelligent adaptive case management to drive innovation while maintaining operational efficiency. By the next year, they published “Intelligent Adaptability,” and I contributed a section called “Machine Intelligence and Automation in ACM [Adaptive Case Management] and BPM” that carried forward these ideas further. Another year on, it’s time to take a look at how the crossover between BPM and artificial intelligence (AI) — indeed, between BPM and a wide range of intelligent technologies — is progressing.

I go on to cover the specific technologies involved and what types of business innovation that we can expect from more intelligent processes. You can read the entire article on Bonita’s website, on their LinkedIn feed and their Medium channel. If you prefer to read it in French, it’s also on the Decideo.fr industry news site, and apparently there’s a Spanish version in the works too.