Big Data in the Big Apple
Slate has published this fascinating article on how Mike Flowers (photo above), the first City of New York "director of analytics," adapted data analysis techniques he initially learned from the military in Iraq to revolutionize building inspections in the Big Apple. According to authors Viktor Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier:
Prior to the big-data analysis, inspectors followed up the complaints they deemed most dire, but only in 13 percent of cases did they find conditions severe enough to warrant a vacate order. Now they were issuing vacate orders on more than 70 percent of the buildings they inspected. By indicating which buildings most needed their attention, big data improved their efficiency fivefold. And their work became more satisfying: They were concentrating on the biggest problems. The inspectors’ newfound effectiveness had spillover benefits, too. Fires in illegal conversions are 15 times more likely than other fires to result in injury or death for firefighters, so the fire department loved it. Flowers and his kids looked like wizards with a crystal ball that let them see into the future and predict which places were most risky. They took massive quantities of data that had been lying around for years, largely unused after it was collected, and harnessed it in a novel way to extract real value. Using a big corpus of information allowed them to spot connections that weren’t detectable in smaller amounts—the essence of big data.The application of innovative data analysis to municipal governance potentially offers as significant paybacks as have been produced in law enforcement by the policies and techniques developed by Chief William Bratton in New York City and later employed by him with great success in Los Angeles. Mr. Flowers was fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is always on the lookout for innovation in municipal governance. That is why New York City is probably the best-governed large city in the United State.
In contrast, the municipal government of the City of Los Angeles is. to say the least, not so enlightened and effective. Whoever becomes the next mayor of Los Angeles, let us hope that he or she will look hard at the achievements of Mike Flowers in New York.
[Hat tip to SZ for calling my attention to this story]