Articles

Boston on the Hunt for New Data Czar

The reliance on data-driven governing has prompted the city of Boston to create a top data chief role and begin the search for the perfect candidate.

by / February 18, 2016

The evolution of data analytics at the municipal level is behind the city of Boston’s search for new talent to fill a quickly emerging role in the government space. Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Wednesday, Feb.18, that the hunt was on for a chief data officer to oversee all thing analytics and boost efficiencies throughout city organizations.

Boston joins the likes of New York City and Chicago with the addition of the position to the city roster, but CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge said the novelty of the duties vary city to city because municipal governments are moving into uncharted waters.

“We’re not the first city to have a chief data officer, but we’re in this time of experimentation, where cities are all working to figure out what the role of a person like this is and what the best approaches are to really deliver impact to the people that we serve,” he said. “The technology is evolving so rapidly, and really what we want is somebody who will bring a vison to this role who believes in public service, who believes that city agencies should be empowered to do the best job they possibly can, and who is going to bring a vision for how the incredible technology advancements of the last 10 years can fulfill that public service mission.”

According to the CIO, the creation of the Citywide Analytics Team in January of 2015 prompted discussion around the need for top leadership and long-term strategy in the data analytics space. 

The new data chief will be at the forefront of conversations with the various city departments to help match their individual missions with the right assets.

“Really, what we recognized was that this role is too important not to be led by somebody with a senior position within the city and administration,” he said. “We want to recognize that data is fundamental to how we deliver government services in 2016 and to make sure that we have the right level of support for all of the different part of the city government that want to use data. [To do that], we need to both have a team but also have strong leadership that’s embedded in the strategic planning efforts of individual departments.”

When it comes to who makes for an ideal candidate, Franklin-Hodge said the data czar role will demand a blend of leadership and technology know-how. 

He said portions of the job duties will not be dissimilar to management consulting, while others will fall to familiarity with real-world technology and applications.

“Fundamentally, this role is sitting at the intersection of existing city departments that go out and work hard on behalf of the city of Boston, and the new tools, technologies and information resources that we have at our disposal," he said, "and it’s about how to connect the dots between those opportunities and create things for city departments that allow them to be more effective in their work to serve the city.”

The Citywide Analytics Team also released the results from its first year in action in the Feb. 18 announcement. 

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.