Tag: COVID19


What Role Does External Data Play In A Post-Pandemic Market?

This article original appeared on the Forbes website.

There have been a number of pain points uncovered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Across all sectors, businesses, researchers, governments, and citizens have come face-to-face with a hard reality that when push came to shove the information and resources, they needed in order to function properly weren’t guaranteed.

Data in particular has been a glaring problem. While there was no shortage of data producers who were eager to provide relevant Covid-19 related information to the public (WHO, Johns Hopkins, CDC), the suddenness and rapid evolution of the crisis meant that these data sources were changing daily, sometimes hourly. The WHO, ostensibly the primary source of truth for infection rates, released their information in daily situation reports. These PDFs were critical data points to understand how the pandemic was changing over time, but were released in a way that made it effectively impossible to use – it’s nice to see the information, but you can’t model, spot trends, and predict outcomes with PDFs.

Faced with this problem (lots of data available, very little of it accessible) organizations are making do with what they have, tying into data sources when possible, piecing together spreadsheets when not.

In the first four months of the pandemic, these primary sources of data were important in order to understand where Covid-19 was and where it was going. Now, as organizations look towards returning to “business-as-usual,” many people are considering how they can use external data more generally to help them navigate the uncertain economy. I recently connected with Bryan Smith, CEO of ThinkData Works, about how businesses can streamline their data infrastructure without creating a lot of additional overhead.

Gary Drenik: As we head into the sixth month of working from home, what do you think is the primary business objective for organizations that are trying to get back on track?

Bryan Smith: I think we’re going to see a dramatic shift in business priorities from innovation to optimization. Data science divisions have been overburdened for years and that needs to change, fast. The janitorial work of connecting to external data is a huge problem, and it’s burning 80% of a data scientist’s time. Optimizing this process should be priority one for any business that wants to become “data first.”

Drenik: There’s a lot of data out there. How do you define “external” data?

Smith: It’s a good question. Our company started out in the open data space, and over the years we’ve watched the conversation shift a lot. To us, external data is anything you didn’t create, whether it’s coming from government sources, other businesses, or Joan in accounting. If you didn’t make the data, it’s external, and you’re probably working harder than you should to get it. There’s an assumption that the enterprise has this figured out, but if you scratch the surface of most data pipelines, there’s a lot of painstaking and manual work being done to use even just a fraction of what’s available. That’s why we have teamed up with Prosper to bring a fresh perspective on high quality external data that goes beyond stats of past behaviors and provides factual insights and data about how consumers are feeling, what they are doing , why they are doing it and what they plan on doing in the future. This is especially timely for today’s world where disruption seems to be the norm and left many wondering about what the future now being shaped by new consumer behaviors will look like.

Prosper Consumer Spending Forecast
Prosper Consumer Spending Forecast PROSPER INSIGHTS & ANALYTICS

Drenik: What role do you think external data plays for businesses that are trying to map out their game plan for next year?

Smith: Traditional models are going to have to be enhanced with new information. For many companies, finding these sources of data is still a big headache. For us, partnering with organizations like Prosper gives us and our network the ability to find new sources of data from a central clearinghouse, which lets them plug into analysis-ready consumer data for economic forecasting and predictive intelligence. We used to assume that most organizations had figured out a way to pull in data from statistical agencies like the Census Bureau and Statistics Canada, but what we’re hearing these days is that there’s a lot more manual work being done to gather this data than we previously thought. If you’re down in the mines trying to get basic demographic indicators from government sources, you probably don’t have the bandwidth to pull in signal-rich data from third-party data providers. The problem is that these days you really need both. Figuring out a scalable way to automate the flow of public data and connect to new sources of data should be top of mind for anyone who’s trying to get predictive.

Drenik: What do you say to a company that’s invested in data management solutions but isn’t seeing a big lift in overall analysis and insight?

Smith: You’ve solved one piece of the puzzle. Figuring out a way to get data into your environment is a big hurdle. A good ETL gives you a pipeline of raw information, but at the end of the day your data scientists are still managing a raw resource, and it’s a misuse of their time. Refining this data into decision-grade products lets them perform actual data science.

Drenik: What do you think is the biggest blind spot facing businesses that use external data? How should they overcome it?

Smith: I think there’s a big disconnect between business priorities and data science realities. At the end of the day organizations need to stream more data, reduce overhead, and add confidence to the entire process. To do this, the first step is to understand where you’re at. Now is the right time to perform a data audit across all divisions to see what data you’re pulling in from where and eliminate as much overhead as possible. A lot of data providers have made a lot of money selling the same product to different divisions within the same company. As businesses tighten their budgets the best way to free up some spend on new data is to eliminate the redundancies that have cropped up over time.

Drenik: How should businesses change their economic models to manage the fluctuations we’re seeing in the market?

Smith: It’s not about starting from square one but adding to what you already have. Obviously, data from the OECD and World Bank is still going to be useful, but what a lot of people are struggling with right now is the latency of these traditional sources. Getting GDP stats from July in September is fine as a baseline, but you need to also grab data that’s up to date. This is where getting data from third-party providers can give you a better overall picture of the economy. Products like the ones you’ve designed at Prosper – which help you understand behavioral trends, consumer sentiment, impulsivity – aren’t necessarily traditional signals, but they’re increasingly important right now.

Prosper Impulsivity Score
Prosper Impulsivity Score PROSPER INSIGHTS & ANALYTICS

Drenik: Between CCPA and GDPR there’s a lot of new regulations around data use. How can businesses ensure they’re being compliant when the landscape is changing?

Smith: Flexibility is important. Companies need to develop a strategy to manage and audit the flow of data through their environment, and this strategy needs to accommodate new regulations as they’re passed down. It’s not enough to have a good policy framework, you also need to back that up with infrastructure that supports the rules you’ve set up. Having mechanisms in place that monitor who’s accessing data, how it’s changing over time, and how it’s shared are all technical requirements wrapped in policy questions.

Drenik: What’s the future of data in the enterprise?

Smith: Every company needs to become data first in order to survive. If you look at Amazon and Apple, who have always focused on data as a core feature of how they do business, it’s clear that the market will be defined by the organizations that figure out how to streamline the flow of data into their everyday processes. Optimizing external data use doesn’t sound as sexy as innovation, but it’s the prerequisite for unlocking the value of data for your business.

Drenik: Thanks Bryan for your astute insights on the value of quality external data in today’s data centric world and the need for businesses to sync data science with business priorities in order to achieve organizational data success.

Complimentary Coronavirus/Covid-19 findings are available at AWS Data Exchange. To learn more, click here: Strategic Insights: Coronavirus Covid-19 Consumer


An Army of Data – Roche

Leveraging AI digital tools, and more to fight COVID19

If there has been one main learning for Roche during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been that collaboration is key to creating meaningful change. COVID-19 created a common enemy and an effective response requires community mobilization and the collection of actionable data and insights to support patients, frontline healthcare providers, health institutions, supply chains and governments. Collaboration among sectors and industries is essential to develop and implement the rapid innovation needed to make change.

This is why Roche Canada assembled the Roche Data Science Coalition (RDSC) – a group of like-minded academic and private organizations committed to working with the global research community to collect and share knowledge and healthcare data.

Launched in April 2020, members of the RDSC include Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii),doc.ai,NVIDIA,RGAXSelf Care Catalysts / HealthStorylinesThinkData Works Inc and Vector Institute. This multi-industry coalition came together to lend expertise and resources to help tackle the challenges of COVID-19 quickly.

In its first eight weeks, the coalition developed over 100 digital solutions including artificial intelligence models, virtual dashboards, market reports and deepened relationships with Canadian and international stakeholders.

Together, the RDSC created a centralized repository, housed by ThinkData Works’ Namara platform, which offers over 200 publicly available population datasets gathered from resources around the globe. This data provides the scientific and research community with a robust foundation for current and future COVID-19 research. The data insights are used by coalition collaborators alongside patients, clinicians, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists and data scientists in order to accelerate research efforts, evaluate solutions and ensure knowledge is mobilized globally.

Additionally, the coalition has made digital self-assessment tools available that can be used by anyone suspected to have or has been diagnosed with COVID-19. With the support of Self Care Catalysts and their free app, Health Storylines, individuals are empowered by the tools to self-report data through mobile applications. Anonymized datasets from this app are transparently shared with the RDSC centralized repository where they are freely available to researchers and healthcare professionals around the world.

The Coalition also launched a challenge administered by Kaggle, an online community of data scientists and machine learners, asking their community of 4.3 million people to answer questions that focus on capacity management challenges identified at the frontlines as well as research studies for COVID-19. As a result, many across the globe have convened on the platform to collaborate and exchange domain knowledge expertise, data set contribution, creative solutions and more.

To help Canadians understand the impact of the measures that have been taken and how we are doing on a global level, the coalition released the Roche Canada: COVID-19 Global Access Report and Dashboard, providing context-specific information to inform decisions regarding the use of COVID-19 testing strategies, social distancing policies and the current state of incidence both via standard reporting and prediction models.

“Our biggest win is that the coalition creates a prospect of what rapid innovation can look like, and what’s possible,” said Fanny Sie, Strategic Healthcare Partner, Artificial Intelligence and Digital Health, at Roche Canada. “The outcome of the RDSC comes down to how people connect, and we saw through this collaboration that the RDSC is building a framework for the future, not just for COVID-19 but to tackle many potential challenges that may arise.”

The RDSC showed that when you can reach a team outside of your practice and learn what drives their organizational passion, you can work together to create a powerful outcome for everyone.

Even as we shift into recovery and reopening, we know COVID-19 is still a global concern. There are opportunities for accelerated innovation and the Roche Data Science Coalition is dedicated to mobilizing diverse groups of stakeholders to benefit all Canadians.

For more information on this initiative visit the Roche Data Science Coalition online.


First Ascent Ventures Privacy Series: Managing Business Travel After COVID-19

Is your business prepared for the risks associated with employee travel, post COVID-19?

If not, now is the time to consider those risks and implement plans to reduce them. No one can pinpoint the exact timing of a return to business travel, but businesses (both startup and enterprise) must have plans in place for an eventual return of the“traveling employee”Companies will be expected to provide a ‘duty of care’ to their traveling employees, and at First Ascent Ventures we have identified the opportunities for software as a service to help meet this requirement.

Duty of Care — Why is it Important?

The legal concept of duty of care, as it relates to employee travel, presumes the employer has legal obligations to act in such a manner to avoid any risk to the employee of foreseeable injuries and damages while traveling. Beyond the legal/moral drivers, businesses have been faced with the growing challenge of employees demanding wellness infrastructure, and more broadly, an employer who they trust. The importance of trust and an employer’s commitment to their employee’s trust will help overcome healthcare concerns which will naturally be front of mind for all employees as they return to their usual travel roles.

In recent years, many large organizations have relied upon Global Security Operation Centers (GSOCs) to manage employee travel as it relates to the duty of care. However, our belief is that the COVID-19 crisis will reframe employee expectations and as a result, employers will be required to keep employee safety top of mind and directly address the related risks with detailed policies and programs they’re committed to delivering.

Why is This a Challenge for All Businesses?

For many companies, fulfilling the obligations of the duty of care requires significant administrative work. Human resources have historically been responsible for the bulk of communication and travel management but are not well-positioned to track constant changes in meetings and social events. While having a last-minute sales meeting with a potential client is a positive development, these types of activities post COVID-19 may pose serious health risks for employees. This new travel landscape will require companies to revisit their existing practices to meet the care standards that the laws (of the home country and place the employee is visiting,) and their employees require of them.

A Common Scenario

First Ascent Ventures spoke to a number of operators to create an illustrative scenario that highlights the challenges that will arise for businesses of all sizes once employee travel resumes.

Company X, a Canadian organization, has an employee who plans to lead implementation at a customer’s office in the UK. The immediate questions that must be addressed include:

Status of COVID-19: What is the latest update on COVID-19 outbreaks in the UK and does the UK permit short term travel from abroad?

Immunity/Testing Requirements: Are there any new or changing requirements that exist relating to testing or immunity certification (certificates given to those who have antibodies to the COVID-19 virus)?

Health Protocols: If the employee gets sick while traveling, what protocols should they follow? Is there a specific health provider they are directedto in case of an emergency?

Personal Protective Equipment and Hygiene Practice: Is the employee required to wear a mask on the plane? Does the employee have to wear a mask while they commute within the UK? Will the employer provide unlimited PPE for their employee for the duration of their trip? Does the employer have access to the necessary PPE?

Quarantines: What if travel restrictions or quarantines are introduced in the UK during the employee’s travel? What policies are in place to minimize business disruptions and ensure the employee’s safety?

Contact Tracing Policies: Is the UK implementing a contact tracing platform? Is the employee required to download an application and does the employee know to do this? How will the risks (centralized vs. decentralized platforms) be communicated with the employee?

A Way Forward

At First Ascent Ventures, we believe there are two options for companies who are ready to take this challenge seriously.

1. Build an In-house GSOC Capability — For Select Enterprises

These types of organizations require a full-time staff to monitor employee safety each day across multiple geographic locations. GSOC is responsible for 24-hour incident monitoring, providing constant response support, as well as ongoing analysis to identify any threats to employee assetsInternal company GSOCs are appropriate for large enterprises with significant security budgets. Our team predicts many companies will struggle economically to allocate the capital required to fund these initiatives — especially with the added complications of COVID-19 so the following is a better option;

2. Use 3rd Party Vendor to Identify Risk and Threats (GSOC as a Service) — For Select EnterpriseSME and Startup

At First Ascent Ventures, we predict most companies will begin seeking software vendors to provide the support needed to confidently have their employees resume corporate travel. We believe employers will value software with the ability to analyze the risks of travel to a destination, including the state of quarantines, vaccination requirements, political unrest, and more. We predict these risk management tools, along with a travel planning suite, will be ‘must-have’ software for employers that want to resume travel. The need for these services will likely serve as a catalyst for the emergence of new travel-tech with industry incumbents and new startups seeking to fulfill the needs of small businesses.

The technology already currently exists to track employees. For example, tracking locations using a mobile device is possible through Mobile Device Management (MDM). However, many of these current solutions are likely a step too far for most organization’s privacy policies — are employees willing to be tracked so closely and what will companies do with that information when they have it? A more elegant alternative is integrating a solution into a travel booking system thus removing the conflict of owning location data, which ultimately is a more ethical choice.


Here is a list of steps different stakeholders must take to prepare for the evolution that will take place in business travel:

Startups and SMEs:As a company, you must define your understanding of the duty of care and begin analyzing the available alternatives (software and traditional) to satisfy the needs and expectations of your employees. It is very likely your investors will expect executives to produce well thought out policies (similar to a business continuity plan) to address travel related risks and ensure employee safety and morale.

Investors: Consider the opportunities available in the travel management space for new software/services provided by startups or existing incumbents expanding their current travel offerings.

Trust is essential to the efficacy of any travel plan, given employees will be required to share data, especially location data. At First Ascent Ventures we encourage and advocate for ethical, thoughtful, and safe use of all data, hence this piece and our first Medium post. In a climate of concern about the use of data we encourage you all to take the challenge of business travel seriously, and harness the opportunity it presents to get clear on how you manage your traveling employees in the best interest of your team and your business.

First Ascent Ventures — Who We Are And Behind the Name

First Ascent Ventures was founded in 2015 and is a Toronto based VC fund that invests in emerging Canadian and U.S.-based technology companies that are building the next generation of disruptive, enterprise B2B software. www.firstascent.vc

In mountaineering, a first ascent is the first successful, documented summit of a mountain by an unclimbed route. First ascents are notable because they entail genuine exploration, with greater risks, challenges, and recognition than climbing a route pioneered by others. This is not dissimilar to the challenges and risks involved in building a start-up technology company.

Please reach out to Noah@firstascent.vc to collaborate with us.


Dialogue Launches an Automated Medical Assistant to Help Canadians Access Accurate and Up-to-date Information on COVID-19

MONTREAL, March 10, 2020 /CNW Telbec/ – In light of public health concerns regarding COVID-19 in Canada, Dialogue Technologies Inc. is leveraging its conversational technology to launch Chloe for COVID-19 (covid19.dialogue.co). An automated medical assistant, Chloe provides Canadians with access to the latest public health information and resources to provide advice to help prevent infection.  

Chloe, Dialogue's virtual automated assistant (CNW Group/Dialogue Technologies Inc.)
Chloe, Dialogue’s virtual automated assistant (CNW Group/Dialogue Technologies Inc.)

After hearing concerns from thousands of Dialogue patients looking for accurate and up-to-date information from public health authorities, Dialogue decided to develop and launch a free online service. Chloe offers the latest information from federal, provincial and territorial health authorities as the official response to the COVID-19 outbreak continues to develop.

For concerned Canadians looking for more information about COVID-19,Chloe will prompt users to answer a series of contextual questions to identify their location and understand potential risk factors, travel history or pre-existing medical conditions that might be associated with the spread of COVID-19. From there, Chloe will provide the latest publicly available information and resources including contact information for local health public units, prevention tips, as well as a list of affected countries and travel safety advisories. We encourage Canadians to continually check back with Chloe to ensure they have the most up-to-date information.

Chloe is available for all Canadians in all provinces and territories, offering up-to-date official guidance based on each user’s location.

Dialogue has decided to make this service and content management system open-source to allow Canadian health and government organizations to contribute up-to-date content as public health risks are reassessed and new information becomes available.

“In the wake of the global COVID-19 outbreak, we are looking to support public health authorities and ensure that Canadians are equipped with the best information they need to slow down the spread of infection.” – Alexis Smirnov, Chief Technology Officer, Dialogue

“Having helped the public during the H1N1 and SARS outbreaks, I’ve seen first-hand how the lack of accurate and timely information can impact the containment and mitigation of infection. The more informed the public is, the more likely it is to take preventative actions to stay healthy or consult with health care providers sooner to increase chances of full recovery.” – Dr. Daniel Lalla, MD, Dialogue physician

About Dialogue Technologies Inc.

Dialogue is the leading Canadian telemedicine provider pioneering virtual healthcare dedicated exclusively to employers who wish to improve the health and well-being of their employees and families. We drive real health outcomes through amazing healthcare experiences, an employee engagement playbook, and a relentless focus on patient safety and security.



OTTAWA, ON, June 15, 2020 – Kinaxis® Inc. (TSX: KXS), the authority in driving agility for fast, confident decision-making in an unpredictable world, has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Toronto-based Rubikloud, a disruptive, emerging provider of AI solutions that automate supply chain prescriptive analytics and decision-making in the retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries.

Globally-recognized retailers and CPG manufacturers in the health and beauty, household and grocery segments use Rubikloud’s AI-based products today. Their offerings include demand forecasting and automation to manage and optimize trade promotions, pricing and assortment to drive product demand and dramatically improve financial results. Kinaxis will enhance RapidResponse’s demand planning capabilities with the Rubikloud offerings, anticipating initial opportunities in the company’s rapidly-growing CPG customer base and over time for other industries such as life sciences. The acquisition also offers Kinaxis a springboard into the enterprise retail industry.

“Rubikloud has capabilities and value that we can offer our CPG customers today, leads us into the retail industry with some bellwether accounts, and adds a group of approximately 80 people to an already-impressive AI and machine learning (ML) team here at Kinaxis. Over time, this enhanced group will contribute to new and existing AI-powered capabilities across the full Kinaxis RapidResponse® platform and applications,” said John Sicard, President and CEO of Kinaxis. “This acquisition reflects the growing importance of AI and ML to power intelligent automation and augment human decision-making to better deliver on customer promises, remove waste and increase resiliency for effective risk management.”

Rubikloud’s SaaS-based ML offerings empower retail and CPG manufacturers to transform their core operations by improving and automating complex, profit-generating decisions. Rubikloud’s proven AI capabilities and intuitive tools enable users to leverage disparate data sources to improve forecast accuracy, site-level allocations, inventory availability and promotion plans by allowing users to run boundless simulations in real time.

“We founded Rubikloud with the belief that purpose-built AI could be used to solve some of the most complex industry problems and we have spent the last seven years building a fantastic product that receives validation from global customers every day,” said Kerry Liu, CEO, Rubikloud. “We’re excited at the prospect of joining Kinaxis, which helps us bring our innovations to a much broader customer base at a faster pace than on our own. Not only that, being two strong Canadian companies we see great cultural synergy and look forward to working on the complex problems we know RapidResponse and concurrent planning can solve for customers.”

Terms of Agreement
Kinaxis will acquire Rubikloud for US$60 million in an all-cash transaction that is expected to close within 60 days. Based on Rubikloud’s current revenue and expense profile, the company’s fiscal 2020 revenue and Adjusted EBITDA guidance, as reiterated in its May 6, 2020 news release, remains unchanged. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions.

About Kinaxis Inc. 
Everyday volatility and uncertainty demand quick action. Kinaxis® delivers the agility to make fast, confident decisions across integrated business planning and the digital supply chain. People can plan better, live better and change the world. Trusted by innovative brands, we combine human intelligence with AI and concurrent planning to help companies plan for any future, monitor risks and opportunities and respond at the pace of change. Powered by an extensible, cloud-based platform, Kinaxis delivers industry-proven applications so everyone can know sooner, act faster and remove waste. For more Kinaxis news, follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.