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Philadelphia’s GIS Leader to Serve as CDO in Dual Role

Geographic Information Officer Henry Garie is also taking on the city’s chief data officer position in an expanded role that includes managing open data, analytics, data infrastructure, GIS and more.

Philadelphia has consolidated its geographic information officer and chief data officer positions into one role.

Hank Garie, who was hired in February as the geographic information officer, will now fill the new dual position, the Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology announced this week. CIO Mark Wheeler said the move comes after overlap between the two roles had steadily increased in recent years. Initially, Wheeler sought to hire a new chief data officer to function separately from Garie. To cut down on overlap, he envisioned that person taking more of a technical focus, having less to do with public-facing projects like those undertaken by the geo team, projects like Philadelphia’s Atlas and vacant property mapping. Candidates, however, had other ideas.

“The interest wasn’t really there,” Wheeler said. “People really wanted to do what [Garie] was doing. At the end of the day, it just made sense to put the two titles together.”

In his new role, Garie will be charged with uniting tabular data and spatial content, bringing them together in a seamless way. Having the two roles together will also help to create standards within the work for how data is integrated.

Garie said that much of the city’s data has an extant spatial component, and with that in mind, part of his goal for the work is to enhance that data to the point it can fully be brought into a spatial environment, enabling the use of analytics and visualizations.

Philadelphia being able to combine the two roles, Wheeler said, also owes to a robust interest in data that has existed in the city hall there going back a decade. Whereas many local governments continue to struggle with breaking down silos and finding ways to share data between departments, Philadelphia overcame many of those challenges years ago thanks to a grass-roots, data-driven relationship network taking hold in city hall.

Garie said doing both jobs in an environment that has that kind of culture will negate the need to focus on small-scale daily fires, instead allowing him and his team to focus on larger initiatives aimed at really helping to improve data-driven decision-making at the executive level.

This move fits into a larger effort to focus and consolidate tech work in Philadelphia. Wheeler has also recently hired a new director for a unified software development team, and he will soon hire a director of enterprise products. Currently, the tech department doesn’t have product managers or an ownership process, which makes it harder to create customer satisfaction standards around the work they do. The new director will be able to take ownership of that.

Garie brings more than 30 years of experience directing data management organizations. He also served as the first geographic information officer for New Jersey before transitioning to the federal government, where he led a list of national geospatial programs, the most notable of which was Geospatial One Stop. Wheeler himself preceded Garie in Philadelphia’s geographic information role before being promoted to CIO last year.

Philadelphia’s last CDO was Tim Wisniewski, who stepped down in January.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.