“It’s a critical piece of infrastructure that will enable other projects to happen quicker and easier,” says Mark MacLeod, President and CEO of Regina’s ISM Canada Centre of Excellence, who has been building the world’s first agri-data hub to serve and drive the plant protein industry—the Ag Data Hub.
ISM and PIC
When Protein Industries Canada (PIC) was working on their on their bid to receive funding from the federal government's Innovation Superclusters Initiative for agriculture innovation, they turned to ISM to work with them in data management and technology. This led ISM to create a data hub that would bring a holistic view of Big Data to the partners of PIC.
ISM is a technology solutions company, with an expertise in analytics. They have been involved in data, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, and data hubs—and were a natural fit for the project. These technologies “became a staple of what they wanted in any of the superclusters,” recalls MacLeod. “When we got asked to participate, we brought a different viewpoint to it.”
MacLeod and ISM took on the project–“We thought: okay, let's help lead this. We’ve assigned some of our best people. And they put together these initiatives and frameworks and projects.” The Ag Data Hub was born.
The foundational layers of the hub include: collaboration by ensuring all of their partners have access to good solid analytics, an analytics environment that supports their protein science, or business protein development; and availability to anyone who wants to use it.
The Ag Data Hub
“There's a fairly macro movement out there right now around the amount of data that’s being created and the amount of unusable or unaccessible or dormant data that’s out there,” explains MacLeod. “And the line of thinking is that the ability to look at multiple different sets of data is going to give us much more insight than just a single data set alone would give us. But, that’s tricky to do without having an infrastructure that’s able to do it.”
The Ag Data hub will serve as this needed infrastructure to analyse multiple sets of big data in the agri-value sector.
“It’s like a road,” describes MacLeod. “Why did you decide to build a road for agriculture? Well, we didn’t. We built a road for traffic. And if farm trucks happen to be using it, it’s a function of the economy more than it is a function of a road.”
Reaching Potential Users
With the capabilities of the hub being reliant on how it is used in the agri-value and plant-based protein sector, ISM is working on a thorough engagement model to reach out to potential Ag Data Hub users.
Their first engagement model is to lead an extensive consultation with stakeholders to design the Ag Data Hub’s priority functions; what should be unique data, what the hub would be used for, how it would help the user achieve better business outcomes, etc.. This is designed to help ISM create high-impact in the industry with the hub.
ISM will then engage in ongoing communication with stakeholders that will refine the Ag Data Hub and constantly ensure that the hub is relevant.
Aligning with PIC’s Strategy
Because the Ag Data Hub is data infrastructure, it acts as a collaborative mechanism with Protein Industries Canada’s strategy for the plant-based protein industry. “How it reflects the specific objectives of PIC depends on what those objectives really are,” says MacLeod. “If those objectives are to optimize the supply chain, and improve the ability to get exports- the hub can play a role in that by aggregating information and giving predictive tools.”
Small Firms and Success
Regina is has been becoming a champion of engaging with small businesses, and ISM proves to be another example of a firm trying to partner with small businesses on the Ag Data Hub to help them leverage the capabilities that they have.
“[The Ag Data Hub] is an economic play for our province. Not just for the industry, but with us working with small companies,” says MacLeod. “We were one once. You’ve got to have that vibrancy in your economy. The scarcity mentality whereby its all about fighting over your piece of meat - if i get more, you get less- that’s one way to look at it. But that’s not the way we look at it. We’re about trying to make the piece of meat bigger. There’s so much stuff that companies like us can do, without a lot of effort, that have big impact on helping these small companies.”
For MacLeod and ISM, it’s in their best interest to work with smaller firms, as he believes they can help bring better answers to their customers.
The Black Box
The success and possibilities that the Ag Data Hub can create comes down to how the plant-based protein industry and agri-value sector take advantage of its wide capabilities.
“Think of technology as a black box,” explains MacLeod. “The real trick is to be solutioning and coming up with real outcomes that matter. No one cares about the technology. We have technology, but we’re much more interested in what you’re trying to do. And we’ll use the black box to help you to do it.”
Learn how Regina is seizing the opportunity to be the center of plant-based food processing in Canada. We’re eager to support every part of the supply chain to help meet growing global needs, and help feed the world.