FEATURED CITIZEN STORIES

Monica Wachowicz

Associate Professor, CISCO Innovation Chair in Big Data Analytics at University of New Brunswick

Dr. Monica Wachowicz is Associate Professor and the NSERC/Cisco Industrial Research Chair in Real-Time Mobility Analytics at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. She is also the Director of the People in Motion Laboratory, a centre of expertise in the application of Internet of Things (IoT) to smart cities. Her research work is directly related to the vision of a constellation of inter-connected devices in the future that will contain information about the context and location of things across several geographical and temporal scales. She works at the intersection of (1) Streaming Analytics for analyzing massive IoT data in search of valuable spatio-temporal patterns in real-time; and (2) Art, Cartography, and Representations of mobility for making the maps of the future which will be culturally and linguistically designed to provide a greater “sense of people” in motion.

Founding member of the IEEE Big Data Initiative and the International Journal of Big Data Intelligence, she is also joint Editor-in-Chief of the Cartographica Journal. Her pioneering work in multidisciplinary teams from government, industry and research organizations is fostering the next generation of geospatial data scientists for innovation.

Q: What does it mean to be the CISCO Chair in Big Data Analytics?

Since 2014, when the strategic partnership took a step further with the creation of this opportunity, I’ve been working in the realm of mobility analytics, and of course, streaming analytics and data visualization. With CISCO’s Chair initiative, they’ve chosen 7 chairs across the country who all specialize in different capacities related to the world of big data; some of my colleagues are data policy and wireless sensor experts. A big part of our work definitely revolves around the volume of data collected through the Internet of Things, but also the velocity of data, more specifically how fast data will be collected and how quickly analytics will produce new insights from this data. This is incredibly important in optimization and predictive analytics, as it helps us understand and design the smart cities of the future.

Specifically within New Brunswick, I’ve been working with the community in Saint John, for creating smart city applications such as Recommender Systems that can enhance a tourist experience when visiting the city for the first time. Our pilot outcomes are showing the way to improve and strengthen the tourism sector in Saint John and New Brunswick as a whole.

Q: What do you think of the landscape of open data in NB? What are we doing well? Where can we improve?

I think that New Brunswick is situated in a very advantageous position with a smaller population – this helps move projects and initiatives along much faster than in places like British Columbia or Ontario however, we aren’t quite as open minded as other Canadian cities, and this is hindering our potential to become leaders in Canada. If we could embrace our ‘smallness’ and have more open minds, there are incredible opportunities to improve our communities with open data that is going to be generated by the Internet of Things.

Within the province itself, I think that Saint John is leading the charge in smart city initiatives. We are excited to present our first smart tourism pilot in Saint John at the 2016 IEEE 3rd World Forum on Internet of Things (WF-IoT) – IoT: Smart Innovation for Vibrant Ecosystem conference in Reston, VA this December. Not only is this a huge win for my CISCO team, but a great story to tell about the potential that lies within this province. It’s my hope that when people hear about Internet of Things, they’re reminded that big data is in fact an incredibly valuable resource with limitless potential, that is only going to continue to grow and now is an opportune time to engage with it.  

It’s my hope that when people hear about Internet of Things, they’re reminded that data is in fact an incredibly valuable resource with limitless potential, that is only going to continue to grow and now is an opportune time to engage with it.

Q: Is there a particular industry that you think could benefit from more data collection or more data made open and accessible?

There are a definitely a number of areas that we’re succeeding in and a number that we can continue to grow in too. In particular, I think New Brunswick needs to tell its story more often, and a bit louder. There are some absolutely amazing things happening in the province that aren’t shared with the rest of the country and world. The work that is being done to make  Saint John a smart city is quite admirable, folks including the Mayor, T4G, Enterprise Saint John, Discover Saint John and the Port Authority are setting the standard of what is possible through collaboration in our province.

Q: Civic Technology is a movement defined as, “empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient and effective” – do you think that this is something that could be cultivated in New Brunswick? If so, how? What tools would be instrumental in better quality and higher quantity of data?

Yes, this is so important and should definitely be cultivated in New Brunswick. Big data is becoming part of the norm, and we need to ensure that citizens can effectively engage with it. There is so much economic potential that lies within data, it really is the new oil in terms of resource potential. That being said, a sensitive and somewhat emotionally-charged part of civic engagement is around privacy and security of data collection and use. Right now, many people will log onto free wifi hotspots without realizing the data that is collected from that. As the Internet of Things sector grows, our awareness about engaging with different citizens, devices, networks will increase too. The ownership of data and networks, along with the intent behind the data collection or use, will be critical parts of the big data conversation in the near future. We must ensure we’re addressing these questions as they arise.

Q: How do you see technology developing to help decision makers in the region decide to move forward on certain projects?

Municipalities and governments are going to play a major role in the development of policies for the access to data in the time to come. It’s not the first time it’s been said by any means, but the government needs to open up more data for citizens, researchers and businesses to engage with. In addition to that, governments need to be thinking not only about the data that they have today, but the new types of data that they will be collecting using the Internet of Things. By 2025, we are going to have over 50 billion smart connected devices that will communicate without human intervention and will be collecting the digital footprints of our cities. It’s hard to fathom the amount of data that is going to be collected, but this is so critical for governments to be thinking about. If they genuinely want to use data to supporting actionable decision making process, they need to have an ecosystem in place to effectively harness new business models.

If they [municipalities] genuinely want to use data to supporting actionable decision making process, they need to have an ecosystem in place to effectively harness new business models.

Yes we need the technical infrastructure to collect and analyze the data, but the social and arts communities hold a very vital role in the success of smart cities. Take Chicago for example, they have incorporated the art community in designing the beacon sensors to not only engage another pool of stakeholders and create visually appealing technology, but to make the process a community initiative. In order to effectively achieve the full potential that lies in the open/big data movement, we need to incorporate all stakeholders – it’s not just a tech movement, but a social one too.

 

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