TECH in AMERICA (TiA)

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Emanuel to tap Brenna Berman as chief information officer

A photo from the homepage of the Chicago Department of Information and Technology. (June 25, 2013)

A photo from the homepage of the Chicago Department of Information and Technology. (June 25, 2013)

by Wailin Wong, coutesy Tribune

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is nominating Brenna Berman to be the Department of Innovation and Technology’s next commissioner and chief information officer, heading the city’s efforts to integrate technology and data-based decisions into government operations.

The city said Emanuel will introduce Berman’s nomination to the City Council for approval Wednesday. Berman was formerly first deputy commissioner of DoIT and current acting commissioner. She will succeed Brett Goldstein, the city’s first chief data officer who is jumping to the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy for a two-year fellowship in “urban science.”

Emanuel has pushed for open data and predictive analytics as administration priorities to make government services more efficient. In a statement, he described Berman as “a champion for leveraging data and technology to ensure that governments provide the best service possible for their residents.”

One of DoIT’s major ongoing projects is WindyGrid, an analytics platform that allows city departments to collaborate in real time. On parade days, for example, the technology enables coordination among the CTA, Department of Streets & Sanitation and public safety officers so garbage trucks and city buses can stay out of each other’s ways.

Individual departments can also use WindyGrid — one example, cited previously by Goldstein, involves the platform detecting a relationship between the theft of garbage carts and alley light outages. Streets & Sanitation now expedites the replacement of alley lights when outages are reported through the city’s 311 line, with the goal of preventing cart theft. Berman said her department’s summer interns will be crunching the numbers to calculate how much the city has saved in garbage cart replacement costs.

“We’ve spent the last year really rolling (WindyGrid) out to all the departments, and we’re still working with them to find new ways for them to use it,” Berman said. “There’s always lots of room to refine it, so no application is ever really done.”

DoIT also works extensively with the broader tech community, especially civic-minded Web developers building apps on top of city datasets on public safety and other areas. The challenge is to harness the many ideas produced in a growing number of civic hackathon events around the city.

“There are so many now that we have a person in the department who keeps a calendar,” Berman said, adding: “We’re trying to manage the overlap so it’s not too much. There’s a concern that there will be all this groundswell of excitement and it wouldn’t go anywhere. We are doing something about that.”

DoIT is working with groups such as the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a tech-focused civic organization backed by the city, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust. The Smart Chicago Collaborative is sponsoring a program that will help developers continue building ideas developed during hackathons over a three- to four-month period. One group that will go through this process is the winning team from a public safety-themed hackathon held in May: CAPStagram, a mobile application that allows residents to attach a photo to a community concern report sent to their local Community Alternative Policing Strategy district.

“Brenna is a great thinker and a great partner in trying to bring those apps that can actually serve people and lead economic development in this city,” said Daniel X. O’Neil, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, who worked closely with Berman while she was deputy.

Before joining the public sector, Berman spent more than a decade at IBM, working with government agencies worldwide to help them use technology. The city’s chief technology officer, John Tolva, is also a former IBM-er, though they didn’t meet until shortly before Emanuel’s inauguration. Goldstein also has a private-sector background, having been an early employee at online restaurant reservations company OpenTable.Thank you, TiA

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