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Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross Talks Running a Data-Driven City

To deliver services to a city of 4 million people spread across 469 square miles, you need numbers, to measure, and to have priority outcomes.

Ted Ross was named permanent general manager of the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency in July 2015, after filling the post for several months in an interim capacity. He spent three years as assistant general manager, where he led efforts to create a city open data portal. Ross talked to Government Technology about how Los Angeles uses data today and how those efforts will evolve in the future. 

Los Angeles is becoming more data driven. What does that mean? We’re a city of almost 4 million people spread across 469 square miles. As stated by our Mayor Eric Garcetti, the only way you can run a city like that is to truly be data driven. You need to have numbers, you need to measure, you need to have priority outcomes, so that you can deliver the services that are important to constituents and you can monitor departments in order to deliver services according to their expectations.

How will open data evolve in your city? We find open data gives us great opportunities to not only make our government more transparent, but to also leverage economic development for startups and businesses, and to open up partnerships with nonprofits and universities. It’s not just about making data available; it’s leveraging data in key ways.

For example, we created a partnership between my IT agency, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Los Angeles Police Department, the Mayor’s Office and the University of Southern California to use open data around traffic and cyclist collisions to get a better understanding of where those are happening and, where possible, identify preventive measures.

We’re using this data analytics project to support our Vision Zero initiative, where we’re targeting zero traffic deaths by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, but truly it’s about the use of data to improve and save the lives of our citizens.

What’s the significance of basing that initiative on open data? We see open data as not just creating a platform for others to consume it, but as a way to start a conversation. We see it as a way to engage the public. If we can partner with the great talent in our universities, in our nonprofits and in the private sector, we can put data out there and allow them to identify open data initiatives and deep-dive analytics projects.

So we don’t just see it as making data available, we see it as opening up a discourse and once those conversations start to happen, you start to do deeper dives and glean interesting information and insights, and it starts to feed on itself.

Where will open data/analytics go in the future? We live in an era of the Internet of Things. There are 6 zettabytes of data in the world and it’s doubling every two or three years, which means a whole host of information is available. If you can harness that data wave, then you can start to leverage it to create real insight and real information. So from our perspective, we see tremendous opportunities with sensors in the streets, with traffic information — with real-time information on all sorts of city services. If we can leverage it to get a better insight, we’ll be more efficient and we can deliver a more effective service for the citizens and businesses of Los Angeles.

Technology is hitting us from multiple different areas. It’s making systems available out in the field; it’s creating social networks, which are changing how people engage each other; and it’s giving us a massive volume of data. If we can analyze that data intelligently, we can get insight and create action off that insight. If not, we’re just flying blind — and you can’t run a city of almost 4 million people flying blind.