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Boston Appoints First Chief Data Officer

The city's first CDO will bring his machine learning experience to bear on the city's most capricious and recalcitrant struggles.

Boston’s first chief data officer will be Andrew Therriault, an announcement Mayor Martin Walsh made May 25.

Most recently, Therriault served as director of data science for the Democratic National Committee. He also has previous experience and training in machine learning and network analysis, skills he said he will bring to his role within Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team, reporting to CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

"The Citywide Analytics Team is an invaluable asset, helping to keep Boston at the forefront of data-driven solutions that provide excellent services to the people of Boston," Walsh said.

Boston’s data efforts are many and include CityScore, executive data dashboards to monitor city performance, a hazard information platform for firefighters called Building Intelligence System, and a data-sharing agreement with Waze to improve traffic flow in the city.

“One of the things that’s great about this opportunity is coming in and having a team already in place that’s already accomplished a lot of things,” Therriault said. “There are a lot of projects that teams have already taken on and all the successes they’ve already had. So my starting point first and foremost will be to get in there and take inventory of all the things that are going on and find ways to build on that and do those things even better, before we get into the area of expanding into new fields.”

For data in Boston, expansion means shifting the city’s stance from reactive to proactive, he explained. The next phase of data science centers around predicting behavior to prevent unwanted or even disastrous events before they happen. Technologies that drive those sorts of programs -- like machine learning – are what Therriault said he hopes to bring to Boston. Intervening on students who are at risk for dropping out, for instance, is an area where city government can use data science to make positive societal impact, he said.

“Someone in my background who works on things like machine learning and programming and working with data of all kinds, there’s obviously the opportunity to go into the tech sector or into business more generally, but frankly that doesn’t excite me,” he said. “That’s not something that I get up in the morning for. What gets me going every day is not just to make money, but to help people make a positive impact on peoples’ lives. And what’s great about it is being able to be really creative in how you do that. “

Therriault’s official start date is June 20, 2016.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.