December 4, 2020

Ethical use of open data for small businesses in Niagara

Businesses need insights on trends in the market to stay on the ball and seize opportunities as they present themselves.  As a start-up, we know that many small businesses using big data, or wanting to use the benefits of open data to build small business, do not have the resources for hiring a whole arsenal of experts. 

This is where the Learn@Lunch series, organized by Innovate Niagara, comes into play.  Those luncheons allow information sharing between business owners, and host a variety of topics, from marketing to legal advice.  

It is with great enthusiasm that Bob Lytle, founder of, volunteered to support this initiative, and agreed to give a presentation on June 1st, 2016 about the benefits of using Open Data to test market sizeunderstand industries and corral competitors.  All seats at the Niagara Falls Museum were filled, and the conversation on Open Data started early.

During the speech, Bob gave several important pieces of advice; all illustrating key values of  

First, he introduced the audience to the concept of ethical use of data; a critical message for the Open Data Community: for industries to release data, they must be confident that the recipients of this data will use it properly, respect licence rights and do not misrepresent it.  This mutual trust sets the path for future exchanges.

Bob also reminded the audience that from a business perspective, it is always best not to rely on a single source of data.  Multiple sources allow continuing an analysis even if one dataset becomes stale or invalid.  

Connie McCutcheon, from the Niagara Region, Ronnie Audeh, from the City of St. Catharines, and Trevor Twining, from Cowork Niagara\Niagara Connects, then had the spotlight as they explained how they created an ecosystem around Open Data in the Niagara Region.  

From Trevor’s perspective, it represents an opportunity to grow together: “Open Data allows new people to see existing challenges from different vantage points.  It facilitates discovery.”  

Also mentioned during the presentation was the important partnership of 8 organizations that made this idea a reality, and can be found on the Portal’s website: Niagara Connects, Niagara Region, the City of Niagara Falls, the City of St. Catharines, the City of Welland, the Town of Lincoln, the Town of Grimsby and Brock University.

Following their demonstration of the Niagara Open Data Portal, Bob used several datasets to show how information could be used as an opportunity for growth and customized marketing solutions for small businesses.  

By solely using a web browser and excel, he was able to demonstrate how TreeOcode Niagara (which records the species and location of every tree in Niagara) could be used by a small Independent Tree Service company selling services to home owners to help them deal with trees infected by bugs.  

This started quite an animated discussion as everybody started thinking about the possible uses of the tree data.  Ideas kept flying and it only proved Trevor’s statement to be right: there are many ways to use the same datasets, and it often takes different eyes to discover new angles.  

Other examples given during Bob’s presentation were the sudden increase of plumbing licenses after the reduction in GM plant operation in 2005, special bride promotions for Bed and Breakfasts in the area based on the previous year’s number of marriage licenses per month and the graphing and prediction of the annual growth rate in the housing market for potential investors in construction companies.

The message was powerful: Open Data can drastically change the way a business is run, and the tools needed to accomplish such analysis are already in the hands of small business owners.  It also reinforced the need for more Open Datasets to be available to those businesses.

It’s amazing to see how the Open Data Community in Niagara has grown over the past few years; and it is crucial for it to continue.

The tools and technology exist to make Open Government possible, and it’s time to embrace it to better the Niagara community.

If you’d like more information on the use and applications of open data for small business, please contact us today.

This post was written by Valérie Plante-Brisebois

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