Three steps to implementing smart analytics in your city

Wed, 2017-05-17 21:36 -- Kevin Ebi

To make your city smart, you have to get smart about using data. At Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, we brought together three data experts who offer strong advice for helping your city understand what your data is telling you and how to share that message with others.

It’s great advice that can really make a difference as you plan your own data efforts. – Kevin Ebi

1. Tell a story
Sari Ladin, who develops analytics and data strategy for Los Angeles, says the best use of data is to tell a story – a story that matters to your residents and the people serving them.

One of the pioneering ways that Los Angeles has done this is by changing the units of measure. A lot of times when cities analyze data, they divide the cities into districts that may or may not mean anything to people. When possible, Los Angeles maps the data down to the level of individual street segments.

It has done this with sanitation data, not only showing people how clean their particular street is now, but how the level of cleanliness has changed over time.

“As a result, the sanitation department is now more data driven,” Ladin said. “It has also inspired people to get together and clean their own neighborhoods. These cleanliness efforts have made an impact and you can see it in the data.”

It’s done the same for public safety.

“Addressing crime on such a granular level can have a huge impact on everything from the way that we deploy community-based policing to how we keep parks open at night in the summer,” she said.

2. Establish a baseline
Any time there’s data, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it. But Thomas Beyer, principal at Deloitte, says the first lesson is that you don’t need to look at every piece of data. Before you do any analytics, understand what your objective is. Don’t get distracted by things that don’t relate to your objective.

But your data also needs to tell a story and you can’t do that without establishing a baseline. In order to determine if any investment is worth it, you need to be able to take your data over time and compare it to a baseline to see if you’ve made progress.

“Creating those baselines is hard,” Beyer said. “However, if you run an analytics project, you can’t get around it.”

3. Look around and borrow ideas
You’re not alone. Sara Gardner, chief technology officer at Hitachi, says look around for ideas. And not just from other cities — from other sectors too.

“Don’t think that you have to invent it all yourself,” she said. “Look sideways. Look at other industries. That is where a lot of the innovative ideas come from.”

But while you don’t have to start anything from scratch, she does advise thinking big. Think of where you want the city to be in five years. Pick a pain point and then pick data points that measure progress toward addressing that. You need to pick something that is quantifiable and provides a return on investment.