NYC Geek Squad stays on mission to liberate data
- By Rutrell Yasin
- Feb 19, 2014
New York City’s Geek Squad will continue to apply its brand of urban analytics to help city leaders make complex decision and improve the quality of life for 8 million residents as the new administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio unfolds its agenda.
Members of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, established by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013, will focus on improving the team’s greatest legacy to NYC operations — the DataBridge, a common source from which agencies can access and extract a trove of regulatory data, according to MODA officials.
The MODA team, dubbed the “Mayor’s Geek Squad,” will support “ongoing efforts to liberate new data from NYC agencies, transfer it to DataBridge, and integrate the data in a way that makes it accessible to analysts across the city, as well as to the public through the Open Data portal,” according to the recently released MODA annual report.
DataBridge unites formerly stove-piped information on a single platform, allowing for cross-departmental data analysis from 40 different agencies. By applying analytics, MODA finds previously unknown data patterns and relationships that lead to better decisions and resource allocation.
MODA’s analytics projects generally fall into several categories: aiding disaster response and recovery through better information; helping NYC agencies improve the delivery of services; using analysisfor insights into economic development; and sharing data with NYC agencies.
For example, with the help of MODA, the New York City Fire Department is applying data and analytics to change the way FDNY conducts daily building inspections, helping the city’s 341 fire units more accurately target for inspection buildings that are potential fire risks.
The Risk Based Inspection System mines information from databases across the city to help prioritize the 50,000 buildings firefighters inspect annually. The system pulls information from the FDNY data warehouse as well as from databases from the City Planning, Buildings, Environmental Protection and Finance departments, using the DataBridge.
The system also lets FDNY schedule inspections based on specified risk criteria, such as the type of building (home, storefront, manufacturing facility), the construction material, the building’s fire-proof features, the height and age of the building, the last inspection date, occupancy and violation history.
Meanwhile, the NYC Department of Buildings has applied data analytics to handle illegal conversion complaints, city officials said. An illegal conversion is an apartment or house with residents living above maximum occupancy, often formerly legal spaces that have been divided making them unsafe for occupancy.
The Buildings Department receives 20,000 to 25,000 complaints of illegal conversions every year, and has 200 inspectors to look into those complaints across a city of nearly a million buildings. Using data from 19 agencies, MODA built a file of all buildings in the city to help the city highlight complaints that represent the greatest catastrophic risk.
In December 2013, city officials released the NYC Business Atlas, a tool that provides information into neighborhood economic activity. The tool, which gives small business entrepreneurs access to high quality information that helps them decide where to plan their new business or expansion, was developed by MODA in collaboration with the city’s Departments of Information Technology and Telecommunications and Small Business Services.
In 2014, the departments plan to improve NYC Business Atlas by including more traffic information, subway rider information; and a "solver" tool that allows entrepreneurs to find a location based on their business inputs.
Some other projects in the works for 2014 include:
- 311 City Pulse: Work with the Information Technology and Telecommunications Department to build a pubsub (publication to subscribers) that allows users to receive a real-time feed of 311 activities in the city.
- Analytics in the cloud: Develop a cloud-based testing area that allows MODA analysts to move their program processing off of local desktops, and into the cloud. The project is a proof of concept, intended to demonstrate the higher quality, lower cost opportunity of conducting MODA projects in the cloud.
- Building Assessment Automization: Improve the building assessment master file by connecting it to automatically updating sources.
- DataBridge Warehouse Expansion: Increase the scope of information included in the data warehouse for city agencies to access for better resource allocation.
- Disaster recovery universal intake: Build a single, streamlined approach for collecting information from residents affected by major disasters, integrating that data into DataBridge, and sharing that data with agencies that need to provide response services.
“While MODA was formally established at the beginning of 2013, citywide analytics is the natural culmination of twelve years of steady and wide-ranging reforms that leveraged technology to create transparent and measurable government performance at a previously unimagined scale,” Michael Flowers, chief data analytics officer, wrote in the annual report.
Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.