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San Francisco to Hire Chief Data Officer

New apps signal emergence of sustainable app development.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee will today announce the city’s plans to hire a chief data officer (CDO), evidence of the city's leadership among municipal governments making strides toward advancing the cause of open data. Lee, an outspoken advocate of the city’s growing tech sector, announced a piece of legislation that outlines the new position. The CDO will be complemented by departmental-level Open Data Coordinators throughout the city.

Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath told Government Technology that the new CDO will be a member of the mayor’s staff, operating out of the budget office. San Francisco leaders explored the structure used by other cities who have added a similar position — most notably Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Ultimately, Nath explained, though staff throughout the organization have warmed to the idea of releasing data sets publicly over the past few years, positioning the CDO in the mayor’s office was a conscious decision.
“By putting the position in the mayor’s office, it sends the signal to our agencies that we're serious about open data, and that we take this commitment to the public of being stewards of data very seriously,” Nath said. “We want to make sure this individual has the ability to gain the support and cooperation of the rest of the agencies.”
While unable to commit to a specific hiring timeline, Nath is hopeful that the position can be filled within a few months. 
The new CDO will be charged with educating agency leaders throughout the organization as to how open data can help them achieve their respective missions. Another key priority for the new CDO will be to simplify the technology infrastructure in San Francisco to ease data sharing, advocating for standards that will help coordinators push data to their Socrata open data platform in the cloud.
As far as department-level coordinators, leaders feel these responsibilities can be added to existing city staff members, who already handle data sharing in some capacity in their current roles. Employees involved in responses to Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests, Nath explained, could be a natural fit.
Long term, staff time invested in sharing more data openly can reap significant benefits at the agency level. Some departments make decisions on open data based on these very requests. Once government data is published openly as a matter of policy, requestors can simply be directed to the city’s open data portal, where they can set search parameters themselves according to their needs. For this reason, no additional budget allocations are currently planned for data coordination efforts at the department level.
Another key component of San Francisco’s open data legislation centers around its relationships with private-sector vendors leveraging public data sets. The code specifies that the city retains ownership of all city data in these relationships. Additionally, all future software purchased by San Francisco must be able to share data with the public.
Yo Yoshida, CEO of San Francisco-based software-as-a-service company Appallicious is hopeful that the city’s new CDO will help the private sector navigate the city bureaucracy and leverage public data to its potential to bring both public and private benefit.
“I think it's going to create an easier pathway for entrepreneurs to be able to create and use open data and then actually generate some income or revenue off of it and grow their companies,” Yoshida said. 
In conjunction with today’s announcement, Appallicious is launching the iPhone version of its SF Rec & Park app, leveraging data on city facilities like trails, parks, playgrounds, museums and more. Users can search and locate specific results on a map. 
The Android version of SF Rec & Park will be debuted within a few weeks. Future plans for the app, and a major draw for the city, is the ability to actually conduct transactions through the app. According to Yoshida, users will be able to actually purchase tickets through the app by the end of the year. The city expects to generate additional revenue through ticket sales, and the company turns a profit through small processing fees of 1 to 3 percent.
“Open data is great,” he added. “You can create some great tools, but taking it one step further and starting to monetize it is actually creating industry and creating sustainable solutions for the future using open data.” 
Appallicious is in talks with several other San Francisco departments, and has been contacted by a number of other government organizations looking to leverage its mobile commerce platform.
San Francisco leaders are also announcing two other new mobile app offerings in conjunction with the open data legislation. Using data from the Planning Department, a map-based visualization app from GIS software company Esri illustrates the city’s urban revitalization over the past decade. Information from the city’s open data portal also fuels a health app from local developers 100Plus, which encourages users to actively explore San Francisco neighborhoods to reap long-term health benefits.