JJ: Are you able to help them consume that data in a self-service way, without your department?
CM: Our first data catalogue was just data sets, but then we moved to a platform called Socrata. It allowed us to host the data set and has visualization tools. It’s great to visualize the data on the map. Visualization is just as important as the apps. We work with a lot of business leaders throughout the city – it’s working with the coalition of the willing. Some departments approach us to put data into the catalogue, and we approach some departments. The goal is for us to automate it so the data comes from systems to the catalogue. A few weeks ago we released a citizen platform based on our data platform. It has some key performance indicators – how many potholes fixed, roads ploughed, transit performance. We thought it was neat, like a service level agreement for citizens. We’ll be doing more dashboarding.
JJ: That’s a whole new level of citizen visibility, and accountability for managers. Have you experienced any resistance internally?
CM: I wouldn’t say we’ve experienced resistance, but we have experienced caution. People working for the city, they’re there because they want to have an impact and serve the public. When it comes to putting data out there, the caution is let’s make sure it’s accurate and useful for people. We have some caution, but we have a job to help different (department) leaders see the possibilities. The best business story is other leaders that have shared their data. During the mosquito summer we put mosquito data in the open data catalogue. I even learned we have people that open traps and count mosquitoes, analyzing them for West Nile. In the summer of 2011, it was our most popular data set. It’s working with business leaders to support them and share the right information.
JJ: You likely began this project out of your budget, but as it rolls out internally to more departments are unit leaders willing to devote budget too?
CM: When we started it was very low budget. Our first data catalogue was on the free Microsoft Azure platform, and we supported it with one-and-a-half persons. In the early 2000s, we implemented IT shared services, so we already do chargeback. So it’s not a case of charging more for a new service; it’s part of the value you get from IT. Our budget for open data is low compared to everything else, but we’ve been careful not to introduce it as an extra cost. It’s really about introducing innovation. In any government it’s about sustainable change, not the shiniest technology. It’s how do we sustain technology to deliver and improve services.
JJ: What advice do you have for other municipal CIOs looking to dip their toes into open data?