Efficiency through Strategic Data Analysis

Michael FlowersMichael Flowers is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in local innovation. 

Performance data shines a bright light on how well cities are addressing the public’s diverse concerns—from potholes to playgrounds. And the best data efforts draw not just on agency records and systems, but also on New Yorkers themselves, including questions they ask and complaints they file with 311. Combined, this information helps agencies manage workloads, leverage strengths, and close gaps.

To this end, New York City is moving beyond mere performance measurement; the City is weaving together data from sources across local, state, and Federal agencies to gain unprecedented insight into public conditions and trends. We are applying the latest technology and predictive analyses to get ahead of the difficult issues facing our communities.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has assembled an expert analytics team in his Office of Policy and Strategic Planning to lead the City into this new era of data-centered innovation. The team conducts the kind of aggressive data mining and analysis that brings the complete “digital fingerprint” of just about any complex urban problem into focus—and helps determine which tools of government, across agency boundaries, can best address it.

That includes some of the trickiest problems—those that do not fit neatly within agency portfolios and that seem insurmountable given the strain on existing resources.

For example, illegal conversions, apartments whose unscrupulous landlords have illegally subdivided to cram tenants in for greater profit, continue to be a problem. Every year, the City receives thousands of complaints about these properties, which are often unmonitored and unsafe for the families who live in them. For a long time, City agencies had no way to hone in on the properties that posed the greatest risk of fire where residents could be hurt or killed. Then analysts began looking at several previously unexamined sources of data about fires across the city, and a pattern emerged. The data used, including the property owner’s financial condition, building’s history of complaints, construction date, and neighborhood demographics all showed a link to fire risk. Strategic data targeting allowed building inspectors to prioritize properties that required immediate investigation and streamline the process for examining complaints. As a result of this efficiency, high-priority complaints were addressed faster, resources were strategically deployed, and the rate for vacating illegal conversions jumped from 13 percent to 70 percent with no increase in the operating budget.

We will continue to use these tools to help make the lives of New Yorkers better, and am honored to be called a “Champion of Change.”

Michael P. Flowers is the Analytics Director for New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning.

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