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May-June 2016

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 21: May/June 2016



Feature Stories

Partner in Innovation


Around Campus


Change surrounds us and we are constantly reminded of the importance of keeping abreast of the potential of future innovations. As author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen said: “Successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs. Such companies will eventually fall behind.” Since I joined Ryerson in 1986, in the School of Information Technology Management, we have been preoccupied with technology-enabled transformation. We have developed and commercialized leading-edge technologies, many of which are showcased in the DMZ today. At the same time, we have grappled with questions about the drivers and impediments to the adoption of these technologies, because innovation only occurs when technologies are actually used to drive change. We have also explored the impacts of these technologies, including both the benefits and the risks. For 30 years, we have been preoccupied with these issues, and as the pace of change accelerates so does their importance. It seems only fitting that in this newsletter — the last we will publish before I leave my role as vice-president, research and innovation — we highlight current work of Ryerson researchers who shed light on possible futures and their implications. One certainty is that there is no certainty other than uncertainty.

Three years ago, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from Oxford University published a paper, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?”, in which they predicted that 47 per cent of jobs in the United States might be lost as a result of technological innovation. The Brookfield Institute recently conducted a similar analysis with similar conclusions for Canada. While we have all been prepared for the impact of new technologies to replace labour in manufacturing, and the ways that online services have “disintermediated” whole sectors like the travel agency business by giving customers direct access to services, recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are changing the world in ways only Star Trek could have predicted. Journalist Diane Francis, for example, points to the Associated Press, which announced that it would be relying on new software to generate its stories on the earnings of companies. Other disruptions come from using familiar technologies in new ways — for instance, the technologies underlying Uber and Airbnb are relatively mundane, but the impact of the new models they have created is profound.

However, while many technologies have the potential to transform, we are not necessarily able to predict when or how. Consider health care. As Andrew Bradbury wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Record Association: “The future of medical computing is bright. Obstacles to the practical use of the computerized medical record exist, but we may expect these to vanish within a few years... We have a golden opportunity to avoid a new round of escalating medical costs.” But he wrote this 25 years ago, and most would agree we still have a long way to go in the implementation of e-health.

Key to planning, particularly when you cannot make an accurate prediction, is understanding not just the technologies but also the ways in which they are being used — the drivers and impediments to adoption. This is why the study Adopt-IT, led by Ojelanki Ngwenyama and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is so critical.

Data analytics is changing on so many fronts, from how we view the world to how companies view us. At the Data Science Laboratory, Ayse Bener is collaborating with industry to create tools that will allow mined data to be applied toward solving real world problems. From financial to medical applications, data analytics will soon become ingrained in how business is done.

Unintended consequences abound, which makes understanding both the benefits and potential risks of new technologies essential. For example, while electronic personal health records have the potential to enable seamless sharing of information between family physicians and specialists to dramatically improve health care delivery, in the wrong hands that data could be misused to stigmatize or discriminate. Ali Miri’s work looks carefully at how we encrypt that data and how we can create sharing platforms that still protect sensitive information.

Technology can also advance social goals. The Syrian refugee crisis has resulted in an influx of people who may not know how to access health care. Sepali Guruge has partnered with Women’s College Hospital to establish a web portal where Syrian refugee women can connect with health care providers, while also connecting with each other to help strengthen that community. Additionally, Andrew Millward has developed a web-based crowdsourcing application designed to engage the public in stewardship of trees within the City of Toronto and beyond, enabling the public to learn about local trees and add information about trees on their own properties. April Lindgren’s work uses an interactive online map to track changes in local media, particularly “local news poverty” in suburban and rural areas throughout Canada.

In the long run, transformative technologies will be economic drivers for our city, province and country. Ryerson is a hub of innovation and transformative change in the heart of Canada’s largest city.


Wendy Cukier
Vice-President, Research and Innovation


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Canadian industry struggles to adopt technology

The ongoing technology adoption lag in Canadian industry was the subject of a recent research project by Director of the Institute for Innovation and Technology Management, Ojelanki Ngwenyama, as he examined companies in two major Canadian cities. It’s not that Canadians themselves don’t embrace technology. Canadians are quick to adopt new technology. Conversely, companies hold back. “Companies are more risk averse," said Ngwenyama.

Technology adoption is vital to the health of traditional Canadian industries in order to remain competitive, said Ngwenyama. But the lack of adoption is also hurting Canada’s ICT sector as it struggles to find companies willing to take on their products and services. In his study “Accelerating Digital Technology Adoption in Canadian Companies,” Ngwenyama looked at manufacturing, retail, health care, and transportation sectors, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises.

In his research, Ngwenyama has seen many impediments to adoption. Issues like cost and lack of time are often the main objections to adopting new technology for small to medium-sized enterprises, said Ngwenyama. “They cannot visualize the economic benefit,” he said.

Other less prominent reasons are generational. Leaders in business remember a time when user interfaces were not so simple and when adoption caused disruption in the workplace. Others may have tried to implement technology and failed.

In some cases, the disruption may cause staffing issues. Companies fear losing experienced workers who don’t want to adopt the new technology. Ngwenyama gave the example of a hospital that implemented new technology. “All the older nurses retired,” he said. “They felt alienated.”

Because Canada has a wealth of natural resources to tap for its economy, it has other ways in which to grow, said Ngwenyama. Other countries like Denmark or Finland do well with technology adoption, but they don’t have the same geographical resources as Canada. “They have to find some other way of surviving and growing,” Ngwenyama said. “In Canada, we can always rely on natural resources, like oil sands and mining. There is less of an impetus for other forms of technology innovation.”

It’s an issue that will take time to resolve, said Ngwenyama, also noting that Ryerson is a leader in encouraging future business leaders to embrace technology. “Education is key,” he said. “What we need is more universities like Ryerson, that have a technology focus, to get people in that mindset. But it will take several years before these students are in a position to make decisions that will encourage IT adoption.”



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Analytics give companies a competitive edge

From computing, to health care, to finances, Director of Ryerson’s Data Science Laboratory, Ayse Bener, is using analytics to improve outcomes and solve problems.

Using complex data sets, Bener is able to show patterns and anomalies in behaviour that will help businesses anticipate everything from consumer decisions to surgery outcomes.

The demand in the field is growing, said Bener. All of the industry partners she has engaged over recent years have come to her with suggested projects, each of them looking to save costs. Analyzing data can help them discover hidden patterns, predict challenges, or create new revenue-generating products by offering data analytics to their own clients.

Currently, Bener is in the middle of two three-year research projects with IBM. She is helping to improve IBM’s artificial intelligence software Watson by developing cognitive algorithms that improve the software’s ability to consider context in forming responses. In another project, she is building algorithms that predict software issues or prioritize software development tasks within IBM software development teams.

Through her partnership with the TSX, she is analyzing over a decade worth of data that will help produce a value-added service to TSX customers. “Using years of trading data, as well as some outside data (website information, tweets, etc.) we are trying to capture the trends and patterns of trading behaviour,” said Bener. “We want to see if any of those outside factors impact stock prices or market trends.” This will allow the TSX to give their customers a more complete picture of how a particular stock will perform and flag any potential issues.

She is also working with St. Michael’s Hospital to analyze the impact and relationship of patient-related and intra-operative technical, non-technical, and environmental factors on clinical outcomes in the operating room.

“There is definitely increasing demand for this kind of work,” said Bener. “We now have more data available, more tools. Computational power and memory are not expensive. Today’s issue is the skill set. Otherwise, the technology is there.”



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New encryption technology aims to securely share medical information through the cloud

As mobile technologies begin to rely more heavily on the cloud to transfer and store data, keeping data on secure location servers is no longer the norm. The long-term security of electronic personal health records in Canada presents a challenge in computing and encryption, which Ali Miri is attempting to solve in a way that maintains the privacy of Canadian patients’ data.

Personal health data can and will be stored in various locations. When startup IDENTOS came to Miri, research director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute with the problem of encrypting that data, several issues had to be examined. IDENTOS encryption — designed as a service product — would help protect mobile data against malicious hacks or lost devices.

With an ever-increasing number of mobile malware programs and a large volume of unsecured mobile data, there has never been a greater need for this type of encryption. “We have been investigating weaknesses that could be exploited by hackers,” said Miri.

Inputting the data has to be straightforward and simple. The user can’t be concerned about the destination of their data, yet the attribution of the data needs to be specific enough to encrypt what should be private while also allowing access where and when the user needs it. “It has to be seamless, so they don’t have to worry about it,” said Miri. “We are building technology where on a fine, granular level you can control who can see the data and who can’t.”

The technology has the potential to change the Canadian health care system, allowing patients access to their own records and enabling the seamless flow of information between primary health care physician, nurses, specialists and pharmacists. Patients would be able to see their data, share it, and even make entries based on their own perception of how they are feeling. The technology could serve as reminders for medication, or for booking appointments.

Miri’s new encryption method is attribute-based, letting the practitioner decide whether or not information should be locked or shared based on the data sets’ attributes. It will also allow other practitioners to add data to a user’s profile without seeing all of their information.

This technology will allow hospitals to become paperless as well, said Miri, adding that the same technology could be used to track Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) billing. Miri says that through mobile apps, patients of the future will be able to access all of their personal health data, like a digital file that will follow them to various practitioners.

“We won’t need to fax results,” he said. “This will be a common platform, where your specialist can see your file [immediately, at your discretion].”



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Citytrees app helps to share knowledge, encourage stewardship

Trees and technology go hand in hand on Andrew Millward’s web-based app, (external link, opens in new window) .

Director of the Environment and Urban Sustainability undergraduate program at Ryerson, Millward has been studying the ecological and economical impact of trees within the city for nearly a decade. Under Ryerson’s Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) group, he spearheaded in-depth studies of the trees at Allan and Kew Gardens parks and used research findings to advocate for the management and stewardship of trees in the city. Graduate students helped Millward perform an inventory of all the trees on Ryerson’s campus, which provided the data to create a first app at where details of all campus trees and their ecological benefits can be found.

Since then, has evolved with IT partner Codetuitive Inc. and Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation and now includes an inventory of trees in Riverdale East Park, Leslie Grove Park, Ryerson University’s Campus, Confederation Park, Grange Park and Earlscourt Park. Currently, Millward’s team is in discussions with other municipalities to use “Citytrees” as a public engagement tool for the urban canopy. The map is capable of accepting data from addresses anywhere in Canada.

“The broad stroke purpose of the web app is to allow users to add trees that they’ve planted or trees that already exist on their property or, more generally, any existing trees users are interested in entering into the app, with the goal of piecing together a picture of the state of our urban forests,” said Millward.

By using the app to add trees, users can experience an “educational but streamlined process.” They can also simply learn more about the trees by using the geolocation feature of the app, which will show them trees near their physical location and aid them in identifying the trees. The app also provides information about value to the environment and the economy of each individual tree.

Citytrees’ purpose is threefold: to be an educational tool for the public to promote stewardship and engagement; an accountability tool for tree planting initiatives from original planting to ongoing maintenance; and a measurement tool of overall tree conditions.

Citytrees will also help further Millward’s research by “providing insights into the state of our green infrastructures, as well as the level of interest the public may or may not have in actively engaging with the urban tree canopy,” said Millward. “By the same token, Citytrees will also help inform outreach, education and awareness-building initiatives rolled out by community partners.”



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Web portal being developed for Syrian refugee women’s health

More than 27,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada and the majority of them are women and children. According to Sepali Guruge, director of the Centre for Global Health and Health Equity, refugees often encounter various forms of war-related violence and trauma, especially refugee women. Guruge, who has been doing research with immigrant and refugee communities since 1993, believes that access to health related information and social support can help overcome most of the long-term physical and mental health consequences of such trauma.

Recently, Guruge received a Women’s Xchange grant from the Women’s College Hospital to help address the informational and social support needs of Syrian refugee women to the Greater Toronto Area. “I was very interested in doing something that was relevant and unique to the community, and at the same time innovative,” said Guruge, talking about the project, which will help address the key health and social support concerns of women that may not have been addressed during the immediate (re)settlement process.

The project has three components. The first is to create an online web-portal that provides (in Arabic) up-to-date information on the key health issues of importance for the Syrian newcomer women. The second component is an online forum for this group of women to connect with each other and discuss, in a closed group, anything that concerns them, as well as receive information and support from their peers. The third component is a health forum moderated by a nurse practitioner who will be able to answer questions in the Syrian dialect of Arabic and direct the women to the services they need.

The initial stage of the project involves consultations with Syrian newcomer women themselves, as well as community leaders and service providers working with the community in the Greater Toronto Area. Community consultation will take place over the summer. Guruge anticipates that the web-based portal will be ready for pilot testing by mid to late September.

Other Ryerson professors involved in the project are Souraya Sidani, Suzanne Fredericks, and Fathima Saleem. Guruge said that she and her research team (composed of several key community partners) will focus on both government-sponsored and privately-sponsored refugee women, acknowledging that each group may have its own challenges in meeting their informational and social support needs in the post-migration context.

The project has garnered a lot of interest, and according to Guruge, there is the potential to “scale up” and use a similar approach to addressing the unmet health information and social support needs of other newcomer women.


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Map exploring “news poverty” gathers information on changes to local news outlets across the country

Local news, or the lack thereof, is the focus of April Lindgren’s latest Local News Research Project (external link, opens in new window)  initiative.

A crowd-sourced map (external link, opens in new window)  was launched June 14, 2016 to help track the emergence of what Lindgren, a professor in the Ryerson School of Journalism, is calling “local news poverty” throughout the country. The goal is to identify towns, cities and rural areas at risk of losing access to local news and information essential to a vibrant community.  Users can add information to the map about the launch, closure or merger of local news outlets as well as increases or decreases in service. The map was developed in partnership with the SpICE Lab (external link, opens in new window)  (Spatial Information for Community Engagement) run by John Corbett at the University of British Columbia.

Lindgren says the idea for the map grew out of her concerns about the lack of daily newspapers and local television stations in large, rapidly growing suburban cities like Mississauga and Brampton. “I was really interested in how limited the variety of news sources were in those communities and the lack of varied perspectives,” she said. At the same time, smaller communities across the country have been hit by the closure or scaling back of local newsrooms, she said, pointing to the demise of the Guelph Mercury and the Nanaimo Daily News earlier this year.

“There is research that suggests that local news is as important to a well-functioning community as good health care and transportation systems,” she said. “We need to monitor and track the extent to which access to local news is disappearing. “

Map users can view changes to the local news landscape by media type, by ownership and by type of event, whether it is the closure of a newspaper or a reduction in service when the evening TV news hour is cut back to 30 minutes. The researchers have posted data going back to 2008 and are looking to members of the public to supplement that information and add new data as changes occur.

“It was during the economic troubles of 2008 that a lot of the real pain set in at news organizations in terms of access to sufficient advertising. The challenges to their business model were laid bare,” said Lindgren. “We’re hoping the map will help us track what is going on.”

Lindgren said one of the early patterns revealed by the map is how few local born-on-the-web online news sites there seem to be, despite suggestions that they will spring up to fill the void left when traditional newspaper or broadcast outlets close or cut back on services. This absence on the map, however, may be due to a lack of information and might change as individuals input more data.

“We may just not be very good at finding [the online outlets],” said Lindgren. “People know what’s available in their communities and we’re hoping they will add information to the map so we can get a better idea about the role online local news sites are playing in terms of filling the holes left by cutbacks or the closure of more traditional news sources.”

When individuals add markers to the map, the accompanying information must include a URL so that a moderator can verify the content. To qualify as a local news outlet, the news organization must demonstrate a commitment to accuracy and transparency and be devoted primarily to reporting and publishing original, verified news about local people, places, issues and events. Online sites must also be regularly updated (at least once per week).

The map, as it becomes more populated with user-generated data, will offer Lindgren and her team a bigger picture of the local news landscape and provide a greater understanding of the gaps in service. The map will be an open source tool used to mobilize knowledge and further research in this area.

The project has received financial support from the Canadian Geospatial and Open Data Research Partnership (external link, opens in new window) , the Canadian Media Guild/CWA Canada, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, a Mitacs Accelerate grant, Unifor, and Ryerson University.


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A Conversation about Anti-Black Racism & Madness

July 15, 2016 | 12:00pm - 2:00pm
EPH-201, Eric Palin Hall, 87 Gerrard Street East

Hosted by the School of Social Work and Toronto Mad Pride.

As part of Mad Pride Week, Ryerson is hosting a series of events, workshops and community forums meant to celebrate & reclaim madness and mental health difference. Join us for a panel discussion with scholars, students and community activists to discuss and engage in the intersections of anti-black racism and madness. We will get an introduction to anti-black sanism from Ryerson social work scholars (Idil Abdillahi, Sonia Meerai and Jennifer Poole), and lots of opportunity to converse about how this relates to current events in Toronto, with hope for moving forward. Everyone is welcome (space permitting).



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