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With rapidly rising technology becoming more a part of everyday life, businesses now have a plethora of options when it comes to what tech to use as more systems are automated. But questions remain. Automation, what is it good for? Is automation a good idea for all businesses? What limitations are there?

Let’s talk…

Inga Latham, Chief Product Officer, SiteMinder

Despite common misconceptions that automation will take jobs away, in the service-led hotel and travel sectors, automation will enable better customer experiences and standards of customer service than ever before. Having the right automation technologies in place can make for shorter wait times at check-in counters, deeper understanding of customers’ needs before they have engaged in a phone call enquiry, and faster changes to bookings and payment information so staff can get on with delivering the level of service that customers want and need. For a business’ bottom line, automation is also a critical enabler of new revenue streams.

When investing in this technology for the first time or in new ways, it will be challenging to know where to start. It’s important to not get distracted by whatever happens to be ‘new and shiny’ and instead have clear goals for automating your business that align with the overall digital transformation strategy. Prioritise end-to-end technology platforms for ease of vendor management and overall business efficiency.  

Mike Featherstone, Managing Director, ANZ & APAC, Pluralsight

Automation in Australian workplaces continues to grow with new applications for machine learning and artificial intelligence being deployed every month. Security is just one of the areas that stand to benefit from this trend. With over 111 billion lines of code written every year, automation of many security measures is required to deliver timely rollouts while ensuring that unknown threats are not introduced into the systems. Processes including vulnerability scanning have been the first to see this new wave of innovation.

However, no singular tool can check every piece of code for every conceivable problem. While automatic tools can be developed to catch a lot of potential issues, tech proficient talent still need to architect the toolset and interpret the results. Ultimately, cybersecurity still requires human oversight to counter a human-led threat. Tools and automation definitely have a role to play, but ongoing technology upskilling for developers must remain a priority. This will allow the prioritisation of complex problems, knowing the basics are taken care of by security-conscious software developers creating higher quality, secure code.

Pieter Danhieux, CEO and Co-Founder, Secure Code Warrior

Danhieux

Cybersecurity is a growing challenge in our economy as every business increases its reliance on technology. The sheer volume of code across hundreds of tech properties necessitates the automation of some areas of cybersecurity to ensure we do not fall behind.

However, the human element cannot be replaced. Human action is required to counter a human-driven threat. No single approach will mitigate every possible gap in security so to tackle this challenge we need to incorporate security thinking into every step of the software development process.

Upskilling developers to mitigate against well-known security bugs early in the development process can reduce the need for patches down the line. In conjunction, automated tools can help stretched security teams address simple issues while they focus on identifying new gaps and threat vectors. The creation of high quality, secure code requires developers and AppSec teams to work together to counter known and new challenges.

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace, so it’s less a question of what can be automated, but rather, what should be automated.

In most instances, customers still prefer speaking with a human, especially if they are troubleshooting something particularly sensitive or complicated. Having been in sales roles for more than 20 years, I have yet to find a sales rep who enjoys admin tasks. Cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions can automate tasks like quote and order management, while also automating marketing communications, which in turn lets your sales team focus on delivering great customer service.  

Likewise, it is much more advantageous for finance leaders to use their brain power to tackle complex strategic challenges, rather than having them wade in the weeds of invoices and receipts. Your financial software should be able to create reports instantly or automatically create sales invoices when a purchase order is received. 

Ultimately, automation should be used strategically. Routine tasks that can be automated should be. In the end, this is not only more effective for your business, but it also frees up your employees’ time to focus on more rewarding and higher-value tasks.

Sahba Idelkhani, Director of Systems Engineering, McAfee

In the world of cybersecurity, automation is increasingly becoming a technology used to detect and protect against complex cyberattacks—and consequently help alleviate the cyber talent shortage. More recently, the volume of attacks has also surged. In fact, COVID-19-themed cyber-attack detections increased by 605% in Q2 2020

Tasks driven by automation are now addressed within minutes—not months—and allows teams to be proactive and resilient instead of reactive to the highly active threat landscape. Plus, automation provides an operational advantage, whereby, its implementation frees up senior analysts and IT staff from time-consuming tasks (such as data collection from various sources) to accelerate their response time to address an attack and make better-informed decisions.

However, automation is not useful in all contexts, as cybersecurity-related incidents rarely follow the same attack path – therefore, making it harder to automate remediation and responses completely. Response decisions will still need to loop in human talent for this very reason, and this is what we call human-machine teaming. Simply put, there’ll always be a need in cybersecurity for a human’s imagination and creativity to solve complex issues.

Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho

Vijay Sundaram, Soho, on supporting employees

Innovation and efficiency in business is an amalgam of culture, practices, and technology. Technology drives automation in many ways. Time-consuming work—like scheduling, issue tracking, analysis, and reporting—can be completely automated using workflows that plan, schedule, and automate work. This frees up human intervention for strategic thinking and soft-skill issues that cannot be automated.

AI can help find bottlenecks before they happen, plan best routes, or best times to accomplish something by combing through patterns in data that humans never can. Notifications and reminders can ensure prompt customer service in ways humans cannot keep up.

What automation cannot do is to set a culture that establishes practices and policy. For example, quick and decentralised decision making or customer-centricity are defining corporate cultures that drive innovation and loyalty and have stood the test of time. Automation cannot do that for you. Neither can it intervene to resolve, or even head off, conflict.

Andrew Souter, Area Vice President PreSales APAC, Ivanti

Automation tools can resolve up to 80% of IT issues before users even report them – music to the ears of teams struggling to keep up with the demands placed on their technology assets by the remote working boom. Monitoring for changes in device behaviours and detecting, analysing, prioritising and remediating vulnerabilities and issues can all be automated, strengthening one’s security posture, alleviating pressure from staff, and reducing the potential for human error.

Automating spend management can hugely benefit organisations of all sizes who have bee tasked with ‘doing more with less’ as the events of 2020 continue to impact today’s budgets. Automating the analysis of asset usage, license types, purchases and subscriptions can help teams pinpoint every dollar spent at a moment’s notice. Not only can they then more effectively track usage, purchase history, end-of-life dates and ongoing overall spend, they can automate insights around upcoming renewals as contract expirations strengthens compliance.

Fintan Lalor, Director of Sales & GM APAC, Wrike

To answer that question, you have to look at the areas where humans and robots outperform each other. When thinking about automation for businesses and organisations, we are really looking at responsibilities that don’t require high human value. By that, I mean repetitive tasks and processes, coordination and organisational skills, and processing large amounts of data to extract insights and value from it. 

Our human skills are better used for higher tasks that require emotional intelligence. It allows us to be better leaders and colleagues, using our capacity for empathy and understanding, but also to be more creative, fuelling our continuous thirst for innovation to improve our environment and societies.

The aim of automation is really to remove those low-value tasks from our remit to allow us to focus on higher tasks that need human skills you can’t automate. To keep up with the digital age, there are intelligent platforms that organisations can consider to deal with the nitty-gritty, which is still very time-consuming for our workforce, and allow them to focus on growing and being a better business. 

Jarrod Kinchington, Managing Director, Infor ANZ

Automation helps drive efficiencies and cut out mundane work, but the human element always remains critical. Routine and repetitive work such as data collection and entry, for example, should be automated where possible, since it significantly cuts down time and reduces human error.

Supply chains is one area where automation provides critical benefits. Smart warehousing, automation and robotics transforms supply chains to be more agile, resilient and efficient. Cloud solutions have improved efficiency and risk management in the F&B, logistics and distribution sectors, while also giving clearer visibility into inventory, orders, equipment and people to help drive enhanced service levels and increase product velocity. In the hotel sector, automation can optimise check-in efficiency and eliminate paperwork, improving operating efficiency by up to 80%.

But caution still needs to be taken around automating relationship-based tasks. There are situations where human-to-human contact remains critical. While machines are getting increasingly effective in understanding human queries and generating responses, there will never be a day where the human touch is not needed.

Marco Zande, Marketing & Digital Communications Executive, WLTH

The power of automation is something that many businesses don’t fully comprehend until they start to build out and unlock its benefits. Automation helps businesses remove a number of pain points, especially clunky processes related to client engagement and communication.

Automation comes into its own when a business is looking to scale. By simplifying customer engagement flows, businesses can communicate with clients and onboard large numbers with ease, without having to bring on additional team members to handle the volume. 

However, it’s important to also remember that automation isn’t a good fit for all businesses, and there is a fine line between getting it right and missing the mark. In our business, the human element plays a pivotal role in everything we do, and our tagline ‘Branchless but not faceless’ really drives that home.

Greg Eyre, Vice President, Blue Prism

There has been a lot of conversation about automation in recent times. In the public arena, commentators are warning that robots are set to take over jobs and render the human labour force redundant, but this is simply not the case at all.

The digital workforce — robots driven by automated processes — are complementing human capabilities. It enables us to work smarter and be more productive, freeing our focus for high-level analytical, creative, and emotionally-driven tasks.

Robots might be able to complete administrative, predictable and tedious tasks through a framework that we, humans, set, but they rely on us to operate, learn and improve.

As a practical example in a healthcare setting, Robotic Process Automation and Intelligent Automation can help its human counterparts to improve patient care by proactively engaging patients with treatment plan updates or reducing wait times on arrival and discharge through automated or digital registration. However, it remains up to clinicians and healthcare professionals to deliver a high standard of care to their patients while also building and maintaining the human relationships that are critical within the healthcare sector.

Simon Le Grande, Director Of Marketing and Product Management, ‎Lightspeed

Through technological innovation as well as exceptional product & service design, some functions and tasks that used to require a human touch are increasingly becoming automated. What we’re seeing in many industries is a removal of the ‘human’ from repetitive and simple tasks, but a reaffirmation that more complex functions, requiring softer skills like empathy, communication, strategic thinking and creativity will never be ‘automated away’.

The hospitality industry provides an interesting lens here, especially given the acceleration of digital transformation in this space off the back of the pandemic. While digital menus, online ordering and contactless payments have automated many touchpoints in the dining experience, meaningful interactions and conversations with waitstaff, sommeliers and chefs that really augment the dining experience simply could not be automated. Humans are now able to focus their energies on value-add activities, while allowing technology to play its part in reducing the scope of their roles and bringing efficiencies that lead to business success.

Stuart Read, Head of Growth, JobAdder

Automation – intended to reduce human intervention in processes – can either be a blessing for businesses, or a true hindrance.

For us, at JobAdder, we embrace automation. Not only does it simplify our processes such as job postings to job boards, but it also helps to streamline our onboarding processes, payroll, and reference checks.  

However, we do acknowledge some aspects of our business that automation doesn’t entirely support, where a human element must be present in order to efficiently complete the task at hand. This can include anything from interviews with candidates, negotiations on money and benefits, the placement of a candidate, and hand-written job ads that can provide a personal touch and insight into the culture and essence of a brand.

Paul Hadida, General Manager Australia, SevenRooms

The accelerated adoption of technology in the last year has not only set new business standards, but has also led to changing customer expectations. Today, automation is a crucial advantage businesses can leverage to not only streamline operations, but meet and exceed customer expectations. In the hospitality industry, for example, there’s a misconception that automating processes could impact the personal, meaningful touches that patrons crave. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.

For customers, automation is both convenient and safe, helping venues glean valuable customer insights and data at the touch of a button. These insights, which are paramount to success, can ascertain a guest’s favourite food and drink, allergies and even their birthday. With that data operators can automate tailored marketing and promotions. Capturing data across the guest journey by automating previously manual processes – from on-site interactions to post-visit marketing – enhances a venue’s ability to provide the memorable and convenient experiences that can boost revenue and retention.

Roger Carvosso, Strategy and Product Director, FirstWave Cloud Technology

Automated technologies and processes come in a range of formats, and the most effective are those that pre-empt what the business needs, followed by taking measured actions to progress the business forward or prevent negative outcomes. One of the most important investments businesses will need to make in 2021 will be in cybersecurity technologies. 

With scams continuing to rise, professionals continuing to make simple errors that can lead to cybercrime, such as re-using weak passwords. And with businesses continuing to be easy targets for phishing attacks, whereby one leak of credentials can lead to the leak of an entire organisation’s data, it is no longer acceptable for a business of any size to ‘wait and see’ how cybercrime will impact them. There has to be a proactive approach, leveraging cost-effective but enterprise-grade solutions, to averting scam emails away from employees’ inboxes, flagging cybercrime to relevant executive and IT teams as it happens, and complying with industry rules and regulations. 

Emma Pudney, Chief Technology Officer, APJ, Rackspace Technology

Automation is part of our everyday lives even if we don’t realise it. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, more than 20% of all products will be manufactured, packed, shipped, and delivered without being touched, which means the person who purchases the product will be the first human to touch it. Organisations are automating more and more tasks, from operational workflows to application deployment. These tasks become end-to-end processes that are efficient, reliable, scalable and easier to adapt.

But deciding on whether or not to automate something is multifaceted. It’s not just about the decision-making process, but also part ROI, part morality and other knock-on effects. It’s worth considering, for example, the consequences to the global economy – what happens if we automate all of the tasks performed by an unskilled workforce? It’s not so much a question of what can’t we automate but what shouldn’t we automate.

Stephen Barnes, Principal, Byronvale Advisors

Most things in business can be automated or systemised. Accounting systems can have through processing from receiving an invoice through to lodging tax returns. HR systems can have timesheets based on employee’s physical location. Tasks such as answering the phone can be systemised as easily as taking a video recording. Automation and systemisation have many advantages. The three main ones in my opinion: it lets you guarantee the quality of work, it clarifies your thoughts and relieves stress, and it creates an asset that increases the value of your
business.

There is one intangible that cannot be automated – relationships. In my business of turnarounds, restructures, and crisis management establishing personal relationships and repairing broken relationships is absolutely key to success. This is done by having actual face-to-face (or virtual face-to-face) meetings, and actual conversations – preferably not via email. It establishes an environment of openness and trust – and that is exactly whom people want to be in business with.

Mark Brown, General Manager – Marketing, Konica Minolta Australia

SMEs spend massive amounts of time on manual tasks. Automating these tasks would let employees add more value and experience greater job satisfaction. One example is documents that need to be scanned, processed, and delivered to one or more destinations such as another department, a customer relationship management (CRM) system or an electronic archiving solution. Document capture and workflow solutions make these procedures faster and more productive, and, importantly post-COVID, reduce costs.

Robotic process automation (RPA) can also assist with repetitive tasks. RPA completes mundane tasks such as processing invoices or claims, completing financial processes, or managing HR-related paperwork. This is done faster and with complete accuracy, leading to better outcomes for staff and customers.

There is no doubt that innovative technologies that let SMEs automate will be critical to their ongoing recovery and success into the future.


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As 2021 dawned and vaccine distribution has picked up, many people had one overarching question on their minds: how and when will they get vaccinated.

At the same time, providers have had to grapple with another question:  how to best approach for this historic, monumental task.

For Stamford Health in Connecticut, the way forward was clear: Leverage existing partnerships with the city of Stamford, community organizations and the state to distribute the much-anticipated vaccines.

The health system has been sharing data and information with the city of Stamford throughout the pandemic, including positivity rates, hospitalizations and other key metrics, said Kathleen Silard, CEO of Stamford Health, in a phone interview. Stamford Health and the city worked collaboratively to set up testing sites, and in the last few months, they also worked together to set up vaccination sites — including one at an old hospital on Stamford Health’s campus.

“The collaboration [with the city] really is to pool our resources, because we know, together we are better,” Silard said.

The health system began vaccinating healthcare workers, first responders and other eligible essential workers on Dec. 17, when the state was in Phase 1a of its vaccine rollout. Back on Jan. 18, it began vaccinating people older than 75 and recently added those older than 65 to the list, as part of Phase 1b of the rollout.

So far, the health system has administered around 27,000 vaccines, and is averaging between 750 and 930 doses a day, Silard said. But Stamford Health has ambitious plans to increase this number three-fold.

The health system is planning to open a new, much larger, site around March 1, which will enable the provider to administer up to 3,000 doses a day, she said.

But getting shots in people’s arms is not without its challenges.

Vaccine availability has been one of the biggest hurdles the health system has faced, but working closely with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and his team has helped the system get the doses and resources it needs, Silard said.

Aside from uncertainty with vaccine availability that has since receded into the background, Stamford Health is tackling a more intractable problem: vaccine hesitancy and health inequity. Both present a formidable barrier to its 3,000-a-day vaccination goal.

To help combat vaccine hesitancy, Stamford Health is conducting outreach programs, including setting up panels with people who have already received the vaccine to talk about their experience, Silard said. The system is also participating in Stamford Mayor David Martin’s weekly Zoom calls to further educate the public on the vaccine.

The Covid-19 pandemic shone a harsh light on existing health disparities in the country, with people in minority racial groups and low-income populations most likely to get the disease and die from it.

Stamford Health has put together a task force, which includes health system members, city officials and members of community health organization Vita, to ensure that vaccines are being administered in an equitable manner, said Silard.

In addition, the health system is partnering closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Building One Community, an organization that works with the undocumented community, to focus vaccine administration efforts on underserved populations.

Building One Community has developed a great deal of trust with a population that is typically hesitant to use healthcare services, said Dr. Anka Badurina, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview.

Through the pandemic, the organization has been working to ensure immigrant and underserved communities are included in response efforts — from testing to, now, vaccination.

One of its main areas of focus has been helping the elderly in these communities get registered for vaccine appointments, Badurina said. Those currently eligible often don’t have access to the internet or an email address, which is typically required for registration. Building One Community, which has interpreters on hand, helps them with the process.

Further, the organization helps organize transport to vaccination sites.

“Stamford Health partners with organizations like Building One Community [because] you have to go to those that have a trusted voice in the community,” Badurina said. “They are the ones that know where the community is and know exactly what the community is lacking.”

With the help of its community partners Stamford Health has established a “No Barriers” day, where members from minority groups and under-resourced communities can come to a vaccination site without an appointment, get registered and get vaccinated, Silard said. No individuals are asked about their immigration status or other questions that might keep people from coming to get vaccinated.

Stamford Health wants to eliminate any traditional barriers to vaccination to ensure that the largest swath of eligible individuals can get vaccinated, Silard said.

“We see [vaccine administration] as our moral, ethical responsibility to help fight this deadly disease,” she said.

Photo: LarisaBozhikova, Getty Images

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The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every sector of our society and requires coordinating a broad coalition of assets to contain it. The response includes multiple federal and state government agencies, thousands of hospitals, and a broad swath of commercial manufacturing capabilities and supply chains. We saw this coordination and collaboration early on with personal protective equipment and ventilators, and we see it again as we ramp up vaccine distribution.

To coordinate an effective response, it is critical to integrate disparate data types from multiple domains and sources, something that has been a long-standing challenge in health care. Obstacles include government agency budget structures that don’t incentivize data sharing and legacy databases that create barriers to data integration. The commercial sector also brings the challenges of competition and proprietary systems. Even seemingly simple questions, such as how many ICU beds are available in a community, are maddeningly difficult to answer in near real time. While well-branded and user-friendly websites provide impressive updates on case counts, emergency operation centers have found it challenging to integrate that data with bed availability, hospitalization projections, work force data, supply chain data, mitigation interventions, social determinants of health, and other key data elements that allow for effective planning and response.

In addition to the public health challenges, new care delivery models have underscored the need to better integrate data to deliver care for chronic diseases. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption and use of telehealth. But again, tools, sensors, apps, and devices are often deployed on disparate data platforms that make it cumbersome for patients and providers to integrate data in a meaningful fashion.

The pandemic illustrates the need for better data integration to improve management of this crises as it continues to impede the everyday care of patients.

Lessons learned from defense and intelligence communities
The health industry lags behind other commercial sectors in its adoption of data management and open-source innovations. The health community can learn a great deal about data management from defense and intelligence agencies, which must integrate vast amounts of data from disparate systems to create a common operating picture to support life and death decisions for warfighters.

The 9/11 attacks demonstrated that data gaps can be deadly. The 9/11 Commission Report revealed that information that could have prevented this tragedy was scattered across several different intelligence agencies’ databases. Following the Commission’s critique, the intelligence agencies adopted low schema data “lakes” that could accommodate multiple “streams and rivers” of disparate data and allow for easier integration. Think of these data systems as giant spreadsheets, with each cell containing an entry item. With automated meta-tagging, each cell of information can be correlated with any other item of data to reveal patterns that would otherwise have gone undetected. These data platforms also enabled the accumulation of massive data stores that optimize advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. Intelligence agencies also benefited from security protections at the individual cell level that enhanced data security, an important feature to consider as health information increasingly comes under cyberattack.

The intelligence community also embraced open source tools and open architectures for these data systems. Open source allows the rapid development of new tools at lower cost. Open architectures avoid costly and stagnating vendor lock, and it enables the adoption of new best-in-class tools and capabilities as they are often developed by small niche firms and start-ups

While novel 15 years ago, many of these innovations have been avidly adopted in the commercial sector. However, the same cannot be said for the health domain. That said, there are notable exceptions that are bright spots on the health care landscape.

Advana: Uniting disparate systems and users on a common platform
Advana, a Department of Defense (DoD) data platform, pulls together more than 200 business systems across the DoD and makes data discoverable, understandable, accessible, and usable for advanced analytics for more than 17,000 users across the Army, Navy, and Air Force who need to make decisions about mission readiness, contracts, supply chain logistics and more. The platform has helped the DoD coordinate its Covid-19 response by enabling the easy integration of a wide range of data, including case, bed, supply chain, readiness, and financial data, to inform critical health care decisions. The open architecture platform supports multiple projection models and analytic tools, which allows the DoD to validate findings in a way that would not have been feasible with a single approach.

Advana faced many of the data integration obstacles familiar to health care IT leaders: non-standard interfaces, duplicate data and systems, legacy technologies, and a history of different units pulling their own data for decision making. To integrate disparate data from spreadsheets, application programming interface (APIs), database dumps, and data warehouses from across the enterprise, Advana streams data feeds, automatically categorizing, tagging, and transforming them into a common data model to improve enterprise level analytics.

Preparing for the next health crisis
The value of big data in health care is clear but unless we can integrate and correlate disparate types of data, we can’t realize the benefits. The data challenges of the Covid-19 response illustrate this issue. The seams between government agencies, health systems, and departments within the same organization create chronic barriers to data sharing. Few organizations manage more data than the defense and intelligence agencies, and as with health care, their decisions often have life and death consequences. For critical decisions, they have developed effective strategies to create a common operating picture through robust data integration. As we continue to respond to this pandemic and prepare for the next crisis, the health care community should learn from these mission critical organizations.

Editor’s Note – The author is a Department of Defense consultant.

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Expect a record-breaking year for Canadian real estate

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Royal Lepage CEO Phil Soper speaks with Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn about how we can expect a record-breaking year for Canadian real estate.

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The journey toward achieving interoperability in healthcare needs to now move beyond data exchange, and instead, focus on data management.

This is the opinion of a panel of experts who gathered at the all-virtual Health Datapalooza and National Health Policy Conference Thursday to discuss one of healthcare’s most hotly debated concepts: interoperability.

The healthcare industry has come a long way with regard to interoperability, especially with the new rules proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, set to take effect April 5. These rules aim to provide patients with unprecedented access to their data.

But the healthcare problems of today require solutions that support data management, and not just data exchange, said Claudia Williams, CEO of California-based Manifest MedEX, at the Health Datapalooza conference.

The industry has focused on enabling the basic exchange of health records between providers and made great progress, but the connective tissue that enables data management — including matching and cleaning data — is lacking, she said. And it’s the smaller providers that are being left behind.

“In California, a slim share of the health delivery systems, mostly the big health systems, have hundreds of people doing this work, and safety net providers and small Medicaid plans and others really are stuck with just being able to pile up CCDAs [consolidated clinical document architecture] or maybe not even process CCDAs at all,” she said.

There needs to be policies and strategies enacted at the state and federal levels to create an infrastructure that has more to do with the management of data than with health record exchange, Williams said.

While policy actions are necessary, there also needs to be more alignment between the needs of the providers on the ground and the health IT technology and capabilities available today, said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, CEO of Bethesda, Maryland-based Aledade, during the panel discussion.

Through Aledade, which operates accountable care organizations in partnership with more than 800 primary care practices, Mostashari has experienced that disconnect firsthand.

“What EHRs do today have nothing to do with what I need,” he said. “Well, not nothing, but they really don’t fill the thermometer of what I need to do for population health.”

It is costing Aledade millions to map, match and translate EHR data, he added.

Looking ahead, care quality measurement needs to be automated within the EHR and providers should get free access to information that is already mapped in accordance with data standards, Mostashari said.

The technical tools needed to push interoperability forward already exist, but the regulatory landscape needs to catch up, said Donald Trigg, president of North Kansas City, Missouri-based Cerner, during the session.

The government is now both the biggest healthcare regulator in the country and the biggest payer. This means it is in a unique position to use health IT certification and provider reimbursement to help create the interoperability architecture that is necessary for the coming decade, Trigg said.

“I’m still an optimist,” he said. “And I think that Covid and this administration will be an accelerant for the next wave of meaningful data exchange.”

Trigg’s advice for the new administration’s HHS is to tackle the inter-agency complexity that exists at the federal level.

Coordination between agencies like the HHS, Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration is necessary. This means, it will be important to create clarity around the inter-agency landscape and data management so that the healthcare industry can innovate and do more, Trigg said.

Photo: LeoWolfert, Getty Images

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health insurance, Obamacare

A rise in insurer participation in the Affordable Care Act individual marketplace indicates that payers are anticipating a fruitful year ahead. The installation of a new president and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic appear to be driving this trend.

Over the past year, insurer participation in the ACA individual marketplace has grown and benchmark premiums have declined, according to a new analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The total number of insurance offerings sold on the marketplace is now 9,144, which is about 75% of the 2015 record high.

This suggests that insurers are anticipating increased enrollment as a result of federal policy changes and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser at RWJF and author of the analysis, in an email.

“The Biden administration has been emphatic about its commitment to the ACA marketplace,” she said. In particular, the administration has committed to preserving and expanding health coverage to help Americans during the pandemic.

In his American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden called on Congress to subsidize continuation health coverage through the end of September and to expand and increase the value of the Premium Tax Credit. The latter move will help lower or eliminate health insurance premiums and ensure enrollees will not pay more than 8.5% of their income for coverage.

Further, Biden recently reopened the HealthCare.gov insurance markets for three months to enable Americans to sign up for coverage amid the ongoing pandemic.

Though these policy changes are temporary, there is a commitment on the part of the administration to try to make them permanent, Hempstead said.

Drilling down into participation among major insurers, Hempstead found that Anthem, UnitedHealth and Cigna currently comprise about two-thirds of the national commercial offerings on the individual marketplace. Centene, which dominates the Medicaid managed care organizations category, made its largest single-year increase, nearly doubling its marketplace offerings from 2020 to 2021.

In addition, participation by newcomers like Oscar and Bright Health has grown steadily. Bright Health is now in 10 states, and Oscar is in 19.

Another key analysis finding is that states that have yet to expand Medicaid saw increases in insurer participation. Increased participation in the ACA individual marketplace was particularly focused in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, where the number of offerings increased by almost 50% in the last year.

“This is where the greatest number of uninsured people live, so it is the biggest opportunity for membership growth,” Hempstead said.

Looking ahead, it is clear that insurers are hopeful that a significant expansion in healthcare coverage is due, and they see the ACA marketplace as an increasingly important part of the coverage landscape, according to the analysis.

Photo: BrianAJackson, Getty Images

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Since this pandemic began, more and more businesses have been pushed to find other “work place” avenues in order to not only avoid clashing with health regulations, but to provide employees with peace of mind. Working from home is now a viable option for a large number of businesses.

So, this far in, what do we think? Work vs. Home? Let’s talk…

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

I think I’m still somewhat traditional, so I still prefer the camaraderie of the physical office. As culture is very important to us at Oracle NetSuite, I enjoy in-person interaction with my team. The office is great for impromptu chats, sparking collaboration or giving new starters a chance to learn from their peers.

At the same time, the past year has taught us that remote working is indeed a viable option. Thanks to cloud-based technology tools, people can work from wherever makes sense for them – that could be home or the office, but it might also be from a restaurant or construction site if that’s your line of business. As businesses look to move towards hybrid models, I believe the key to managing teams is setting clear goals and communication. While I might prefer the office, it appears that younger workers are more than capable of staying productive at home. Leaders should aim to align teams on goals that will keep everyone focused and working collaboratively. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Working from home offers flexibility, can promote a healthier work/life balance, and reduces time spent in traffic. Ultimately, the key is to ensure your team feels supported and identify tactics to keep them motivated.

Lara Owen, Director of Global Workplace Experience, GitHub

The pandemic has compelled organisations to think about remote operations and flexible work arrangements in ways that they weren’t a year ago. Whatever the chosen operational path, from hybrid to digital by design, clarity on core cultural priorities and business needs before making tactical changes and investments, is crucial. 

Our decade of experience with a distributed workforce tells us that offices are not going away. We will see a rise in hot-desking and a reduction in office footprints. Offices will be designed for collaboration: team deep-dives, customer and community events, celebrations, planning and design work. Successfully building a distributed team demands deliberate changes in the way people work. That requires a shift in the way companies train, empower and support people to work in new ways. 

Companies with a clear mission and purpose, an invested leadership team, and a willingness to let go of parts of the past which do not serve them, will truly thrive and usher in the new future of work. In every crisis there is opportunity – and this is a huge opportunity to embrace a better way of working for the future.

Amy Burton, Managing Lawyer at Everyday Justice, John Monash Scholar

I’m a big believer in flexibility. I personally love having a physical office. I’m a mum of a 1 year-old, so travelling into work is my opportunity to dress up, escape my messy house and spend the day having adult conversations and drinking quality coffee. At the same time though, I love that my legal practice has embraced phone and video-conferencing tech to provide free legal advice to those with disabilities or people in more remote areas who can’t travel to a physical office. 

I also think it’s important for more businesses to offer remote internships now, as we do. I’ve developed great working relationships with my interstate interns over video-conference and they’re getting the opportunity to develop their practical legal skills without needing to be in the same physical office as me.

Anton Schiavello, General Manager, Nura Space

For most of us, our work is fundamental to our identity and sense of self. A core part of this notion is the ‘place’ known as the office, that physically houses and cultivates the organisational culture, relationships, and functional performance outcomes such as collaboration.
 
The pandemic has shown us that the digital environment is able to support connections between people, but merely as an extension of the physical environment and interaction. In my opinion, the physical office can never be replaced entirely by digital tools, as it’s a place where teams come together and build essential relationships – which benefits both morale and productivity.

As a result of the global pandemic, we now know that the remote working model is here to stay. Workers are empowered to work with more choice and greater flexibility. This means that coming into the physical office will be right for some people, but not for others.

Alex Hattingh, Chief People Office, Employment Hero

Our Remote Working Survey last year found that workers loved remote work and preferred avoiding the daily commute. At the same time, employees missed the social aspect of office life and found it harder to switch off at home.

This is reflective of how increasingly sought-after the hybrid working model and flexible working conditions are becoming. Society’s rapid shift to remote work has revealed the benefits of telecommuting, but has also highlighted the advantages of being in a physical workplace — particularly for mental health, culture, and creativity.

For companies providing on-site facilities, the cultural benefits are endless — being amongst your colleagues or in the midst of a co-working space will certainly help to boost creativity and collaboration, nurture and develop your company’s culture and vision, and have a positive effect on staff’s mental health.

However, organisations that are continuing down the path of full-time remote work, a plethora of tech tools and innovative software exists, which can help to nurture the important social aspects of being in an office. These might include tools for social reward and recognition, team collaboration, and mental health support, that will help to increase employee engagement, regardless of where your staff is working from.

Billy Tucker, CEO, Oneflare

Our team, like many, delivered brilliantly during the crazy period of lockdown last year. However, I’m a big proponent of the need for a physical office and believe that cracks will start to show if it’s completely taken away. 

One argument for not having a physical office is the money businesses will save on rent, but for our business, the numbers simply don’t stack up. The majority of our employees are based in a Sydney office, single-level with water views, with the usual trappings such as a ping pong table and free breakfast. Rent is equivalent to just under 7% of our total labour cost. Add another couple of points for utilities, free food and some office management, and you’re still well under 10%.

Rounding the costs up to one-tenth of our total labour cost means that losing just 4 hours of weekly productivity from each employee as a result of virtual working will leave us worse off. That’s before accounting for a loss of valuable collaboration and other hard-to-measure factors, such as employee churn from those who don’t enjoy working from home. 

May Samali, Professional Coach, Venture Partner & John Monash Scholar

The past year has taught us that face-to-face interaction is critical to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The benefit of a physical office is that it fosters human connections that are almost impossible to replicate online.

It is also a work environment equaliser.

The same cannot be said for remote work — for some, it translates to working from a large home office or holiday home in Byron Bay, and for others it means taking Zoom calls from a closet in a small noisy apartment filled with children.

The ideal is to provide people with a mix of options including a physical office and remote work. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Ultimately, work should not be seen as somewhere we go, but something we do. It is a verb, not a noun. This perspective encourages work-life integration and allows people to “work” whenever, wherever and however is best for their circumstances.

Robert Coorey, Co-Founder, Archistar

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s that we don’t always need a physical office space to be productive and get our jobs done. I think it’s important, however, that employees are given the option. Our office is now a complete hybrid environment – our team can come in on the days that they like, and work from home on the others.  

On the pros of working from home, flexibility is the first thing that comes to mind. Pre-COVID, I hardly ever picked up my kids from school. I was often flat out and would feel guilty leaving the office in the middle of the day. Now, I can occasionally take out 30 minutes to pick up my kids and not miss anything important.

On the flip side, it can be hard when school finishes! During a recent client video call I had to excuse myself temporarily as my 7-year-old son was crying. When I came back into the room my son was on the camera making funny faces to the client! I have now learned to always lock my computer when I leave the room.

Laura Corbett, Office Manager, JobAdder

As many businesses slowly emerge from lockdowns and return back to the physical office, some leaders are still torn about whether to enforce an ‘office-only rule’ or adapt to a flexible, hybrid model. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the modern workforce can successfully and seamlessly work from home, and adapt to a more remote, digitally-connected world, whilst still remaining productive. Businesses reaped the benefits while working remotely, by reducing overheads on physical spaces, including maintenance, insurance, furniture, utilities, storage space, and equipment costs. Other benefits include the streamlining of recruitment, and the ability to hire and grow, without the restraints of office space or desk availability. 

In saying this, there are also many benefits that come with physical space, from better team collaboration and engagement, to be being able to mold and nurture the company’s culture. Although digital work offers a number of conveniences, it’s clear to see the social element of working suffers when the only face-to-face engagement teams receive is via Zoom calls. 

If considering a return-to-office approach, it’s important to look at what value a physical office space offers your company, and most importantly, ensure the decision reflects the values of the business and the needs of workers.

Dionne Niven, Chief People Officer, SiteMinder

Blanket rules for team culture are no longer effective, and the same goes for the workspaces that employees work in and the values that drive how those workspaces are designed and managed. There is no point in enforcing blanket rules where all people need to work remotely, go to a physical office space, or adopt rigid hybrid models. Everyone’s needs and circumstances are different, and this has proven to be worth particularly considering since the pandemic, as research highlights it has impacted each person, family, and community differently.

We have adopted an approach we call Open Working, whereby our teams are given the autonomy to determine the best ways of working for them. This encourages staff to minimise the stress of commuting, optimise the benefits of collaborating, and connect with their teams on platforms and in environments that suit their preferences. Not everyone wants to start work at 9am, but almost everyone does want to feel connected and part of a team no matter when or where they’re working, and making that a reality every day will look different for every employee.

Roger Carvosso, Strategy and Product Director, FirstWave Cloud Technology

Thousands of Australians are taking advantage of the opportunities to work from home, which many businesses have trialled and benefited from throughout the pandemic. As well as businesses being able to cut rent costs, and employees being able to save time on commutes, many teams are also experiencing a heightened sense of trust and transparency. 

Meanwhile, a company-wide shift to working remotely has led to a rapid rise in cybersecurity threats and scams throughout 2020, which is an urgent area that needs executives’ attention. As professionals have flocked to working more online, rapidly increased their use of social media and web browsing, and have even further merged how they use technological devices across their personal and professional lives, cybercriminals have had more opportunities than ever to impersonate executives in emails, gather personal information via social media platforms, and trick employees into making payments into the wrong accounts. Consequently, for business leaders planning for a remote workforce in 2021, cybersecurity needs to be a significant part of the business strategy. 


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A major concern during the Covid-19 pandemic has been that Americans, especially those with underlying conditions, will delay necessary care. New survey results show this concern is not unfounded.

As of last September, about 40% of Americans with one or more chronic health conditions reported delaying or avoiding care, according to a new report from the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Report authors analyzed data from the second wave of the Urban Institute’s Coronavirus Tracking Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted Sept. 11-28, 2020. The survey polled 4,007 adults, ages 18 to 64 years.

About 36% of Americans said they delayed or did not receive healthcare due to a fear of exposure to the coronavirus or because a provider limited services during the pandemic, the report states. Black adults (39.7%) were more likely than white (34.3%) or Hispanic/Latinx (35.5%) adults to report delaying or forgoing care because of concerns about virus exposure.

About four in 10 adults with one or more chronic health conditions (40.7%) said they delayed or avoided care because of the pandemic, as compared with 26.4% of adults with no chronic conditions.

In addition, more than half of adults with both a physical and mental health condition (56.3%) reported delaying or avoiding healthcare due to the pandemic. About 43% of this group also reported delayed or forgoing multiple types of care.

The impacts of delaying or avoiding care were acutely felt by those with chronic conditions, the report shows. An estimated 23.2% of these adults reported that going without or delaying care worsened a health condition, 21% said it limited their ability to perform daily activities and 15.2% said it limited their ability to work.

Further, the report shows the kinds of care that Americans were avoiding. Dental care was the most common type of care adults delayed or did not receive because of the pandemic (25.3%), followed by seeing a general doctor or specialist (20.6%) and receiving preventive health screenings or medical tests (15.5%).

“Tackling unmet healthcare needs requires effectively assuaging fears about exposure to the coronavirus,” report authors concluded. Providers need to reassure patients that they are following public health guidelines and that these precautions can effectively prevent virus transmission.

“More data showing healthcare settings are not common sources of transmission and better communication with the public to promote the importance of seeking needed and routine care are also needed,” the authors wrote.

Photo: YinYang, Getty Images

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Monday, 22 February, marks the official start date of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Australia as more than 142,000 Pfizer vaccines touched down at Sydney Airport – an endeavour that has been dubbed Australia’s biggest peacetime operation.

The shipment, delivered by Singapore Airlines cargo, is the first of 20 million doses that the Government has secured as part of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy.

“It was March the 11th last year that the pandemic was declared and now on Aussie soil we have the Pfizer vaccine and it’s ready to go,” Pfizer’s Medical Director Krishan Thiru told the Today show this morning.

“Our focus is on delivering the vaccine to the points of use where the Government asks us to deliver them. That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what we’ll do.”

The vaccine rollout is due to begin next week with the first Australians to begin receiving the vaccine from 22 February.

“The vaccine has landed and we’re stepping up our fight against the pandemic,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“Once the final safety checks are completed we can start rolling out the vaccine to our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers.

“The hard work of Australians has meant we’re in an enviable position in our fight against the pandemic, so we’ve been able to take the time to properly assess our vaccine decisions and give our world-class regulator the time they need to review the safety of the jabs.

“While we’re taking the time to get the rollout right, I am confident all Australians who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will receive a vaccine this year.”

Who gets first dibs on the vaccine?

As part of the ‘Phase 1a’ vaccine rollout, 80,000 doses will be administered in the first week. 50,000 doses have been allocated to quarantine and border workers and frontline healthcare workers, while 30,000 are reserved for aged care and disability care staff and residents. 62,000 will be set aside for second doses which will be given 21 days after the first dose.

Supplied: Australian Government

The Government’s goal is to eventually deliver 150,000 jabs per day and have the entire adult population vaccinated by late October.

The vaccine will be administered in hospital ‘hubs’ across Australia as well as in residential aged care and disability facilities.

How will the vaccine be stored?

Logistics company DHL has stepped in to tackle the complex task of getting the vaccine to Australians around the country.

The company will employ a network of 200 portable ultra-low-temperature freezers to ensure the vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees, can be delivered safely.

Dr Thiru said the vaccines had been shipped to Australia on specially-designed thermal shippers and were kept in refrigerated containers.

“Our company has a rich heritage in cold chain vaccine storage and distribution. We’ve so far got a 99.9% success rate from delivering the vaccines from the factory door to where they’re used with the quality and integrity interact,” he said.

Will the vaccine stop virus transmission?

Although the vaccine is designed to protect against COVID-19 and its variants, it is too early to tell if it will stop the transmission of the virus.

“You’d need to see a larger proportion of the population vaccinated before you can tell whether it’s going to stop transmission or not and whether you’re going to see a downturn in the rates,” Dr Thiru said.

He explained that laboratory testing results were promising and indicated that the vaccine could be effective against some of the newer COVID-19 strains including the UK, South African, and Brazilian variants.

“If sometime in the future it becomes apparent it’s not effective, you can easily tweak the formula for the vaccine.”

Why has the vaccine rollout taken so long?

When asked why Australia has been slower than other countries in the vaccination rollout, Dr Thiru explained that “every country’s situation is different.” A vaccine, he said, could not start production until it was given the go-ahead by certain authorities.

“Vaccinations can’t start until the vaccine has been fully and thoroughly evaluated by the independent regulatory agency and approved,” he said.

“The TGA is one of the world’s most respected agencies. They get a full evaluation.

“They didn’t have that emergency situation we’ve seen in some other countries.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is conducting batch tests on the first of the Pfizer vaccine arrivals to ensure they meet quality standards before they are deployed next week.

“Australians can be reassured this vaccine has gone through rigorous, independent testing by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure it is safe, effective, and manufactured to a high standard,” Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said.

“These vaccines will now go through further batch testing to further check for quality and efficacy, ensuring all Australians have confidence in the vaccines they receive.”

Why did Pfizer get first preference?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the first to be provisionally approved for use in Australia by the TGA with a 95% efficacy score from a clinical trial last year.

Despite the promising results, there have been ongoing concerns over the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

33 Norwegian officials aged 75 and older died a short time after receiving the Pfizer vaccine in mid-January and other countries have since reported further deaths and side effects.

A World Health Organization (WHO) committee said this was “in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals” and that the risk-benefit balance of the vaccine “remains favourable in the elderly.”

The TGA said that, although no concrete link has been established between the deaths and the vaccine, it would work with international authorities and Pfizer to get more information.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy told Nine News that he was not unduly concerned about the Pfizer vaccine rollout, which he says is part of a “diversified vaccine strategy.”

“That’s why we’ve bought more than one vaccine and I still think the Pfizer vaccine will be okay but we just have to wait and see,” he said.

In addition to the Pfizer vaccine, Australia has approved 53.8 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses and 51 million Novavax vaccine doses.

The Government has also signed up to the international COVAX Facility which provides access to a range of vaccines to immunise up to 50 per cent of the Australian population.

The full press release for the vaccine rollout can be found here.


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Building small businesses, institutional relationships and creating more home ownership leads to a ‘thriving community,’ says Isaac Olowolafe Jr.

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When Isaac Olowolafe Jr. was 15, his family moved from Toronto to nearby Woodbridge, Ont., where he recalls seeing what a tight-knit community could build: thriving small businesses, widespread home ownership, institutional relationships and the accumulation of wealth.

By the time he embarked on an economics degree at the University of Toronto a few years later, the now 37-year-old businessman says, he was already set on bringing that formula to the Black community.

“Since then, I’ve been sort of planting the seeds to do what I can from an economic (point of) view,” said Olowolafe Jr., founder of Dream Maker Ventures, a venture capital and real estate company that focuses on startups led by diverse founders.

Olowolafe Jr. is one of a number of Black business leaders who are bringing their expertise to the BlackNorth Initiative, a group founded by Bay Street veteran Wes Hall that is seeking to use the power of business to end anti-Black systemic racism in Canada.

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Olowolafe Jr. is head of the group’s housing committee, and is also championing entrepreneurship through plans for a Black Business Development Hub.

“The Hub will be the centrepiece and physical space which the Black community can leverage to increase access to institutional relationships like banks and universities and government,” Olowolafe told the Financial Post in a recent interview.

The project is a twist on a plan that was already under way when he was recruited to join BlackNorth.

The mixed-use development near Toronto’s main airport will feature more than a dozen working rooms, hotel and event space, and a commercial kitchen — all of which will be used to incubate and develop Black-owned businesses.

Now a partnership between BlackNorth, the Dream Legacy Foundation and Ryerson DMZ, the plan is to raise $10 million in funding to expand the hub from 13,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, Olowolafe Jr. said.

He says he hopes the business hub will open this summer and ultimately be able to provide services to more than 100 Black entrepreneurs.

Encouraging entrepreneurship through the hub will lead to more successful small businesses and help build institutional relationships, such as with banks, he said. This, in turn, will generate more income and opportunity for home ownership, a pillar of wealth creation.

“Home ownership leads to other ripple effects (that help individuals and communities) over a long period of time,” he said.

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To that end, the BlackNorth Initiative’s housing committee is embarking on an effort to create a $65-million fund to provide bridge financing to bring up to 200 working, lower-income Black and racialized families into the homeownership game.

The committee is in talks with all three levels of government about contributing to the home ownership bridge program. A handful of well-known developers including Tridel, KingSett, DiamondCorp, and The Daniels Corp. and other potential donors have also been approached.

“They’ve all raised their hands to say: ‘How can we help and support and give to this housing initiative?’” Olowolafe said of the developers. “I think that that is a great sign.”

Home ownership leads to other ripple effects (that help individuals and communities) over a long period of time

Isaac Olowolafe Jr.

The idea behind the BlackNorth Initiative’s homeownership bridge program is that prospective home buyers would be assessed for mortgages based on the usual criteria of income and assets, with the difference between the mortgage they qualify for and how much credit they need to buy a home “bridged” by a pooled fund.

The bridge financing would, in some ways, be treated as a second mortgage. When repaid by the homeowner, either after the regular mortgage was paid down or when the home is sold, the money would go back into the pool. The homeowner and the pool would share in any gains on the home’s value when sold, with the ratio determined based on how much of the bridge financing the homeowner had paid down.

The intention is to keep the fund rolling, in order to get more people into homes, Olowolafe Jr. said, noting that even if the homeowner were just able to get their own money out of the home it would be more equity than they would have accrued over the same years renting a home.

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While Olowolafe is a supporter of initiatives undertaken by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to get more Canadians into affordable housing, he stands firm on the idea that ownership — not rental options — will be the key to greater success for the Black community.

“I’ve always known that for the Black community as a whole to be able to be an economic leader there were some major things we needed: institutional relationships, building small businesses, and creating more home ownership,” he said.

“All that leads to a thriving community.”

Financial Post

• Email: bshecter@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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