Chief Information Officer

City of Chicago's Chief Digital Officer on Big Data Analysis

Tom Schenk, Chief Digital Officer, City of Chicago, discussed the impact of big data on public safety, health services and other City of Chicago operations during his keynote address to Argyle’s CIO membership at the 2017 Chief Information Officer Leadership Forum: Data Strategy & Innovation in Chicago on Feb. 28. In his presentation, “City of Big Data,” Schenk described how the City of Chicago uses big data to enhance its day-to-day operations.

According to Schenk, the City of Chicago deploys an “open” approach to data. This approach has helped facilitate effective data management and collaboration among city residents and employees alike.

Schenk pointed out data is readily available, but many challenges often limit the true value of data for individuals around the world.

For example, many business departments will collect data on their own but will not share this information with other departments. This limits collaboration, and ultimately, may prevent an organization from achieving its immediate and long-term goals.

With an open approach to data management, departments across an organization can analyze data and optimize the value of this information. The approach empowers individuals at all levels of an organization to work together for the greater good, ensuring each department can access and analyze large collections of data at any time.

“Data is not just for the technologists … data is now becoming core to the operation.”

Schenk indicated the City of Chicago takes a technology-driven approach in its day-to-day operations. By doing so, the city has been able to collect, organize and manage large amounts of data effectively.

“In Chicago, we believe the power of technology is driven by the people who use it and benefit from that,” Schenk said.

The City of Chicago boasts an open data portal and publishes data online. That way, data is accessible to city employees and residents – without exception.

“We make data sets and make information widely available,” Schenk stated. “By making [data] freely available to others, it allows others to build on top of us.”

An open approach to data management empowers individuals with meaningful insights in a broad range of areas. As a result, individuals can use data to discover innovative ways to help an organization grow.

“We’ve built physical infrastructure for centuries to allow the city to build on top of,” Schenk noted. “In this same way, you can take data and build on top of that.”

Furthermore, Schenk said the City of Chicago has a simple mission: to improve its day-to-day operations consistently. An open data approach supports this mission by allowing city employees and residents to leverage data at all times.

“We have this strategy to leverage data and make technology to make government more efficient, effective and open,” Schenk pointed out. “The open data portal is that first step.”

Going forward, the City of Chicago will continue to explore ways to improve the quality of its data and drive data transparency.

“Facilitating methods to analyze data helps create a modern, more efficient city.”

An open approach to data may even help the city enhance its data collection and analysis methods.

“The city will continue to increase and improve the quality of city data available internally and externally,” Schenk indicated. “Facilitating methods to analyze data helps create a modern, more efficient city.”

In addition, the City of Chicago has been able to eliminate many data hurdles thanks in part to its open approach to data management.

“Every single employee has access to that exact same data that [I have],” Schenk said. “Every single one of our departments maintain their own data but often need access to other departments’ data. … By approaching open data in this way, we make city data available to you, but we also make it available to other city employees.”

The City of Chicago provides a valuable example for cities and towns across the country, along with organizations of all sizes.

Although data is available to organizations, finding the best way to use this information can be difficult. Now, an open data approach fosters collaboration and innovation by empowering all individuals with fast, easy access to a wealth of information.

An open data approach also can help an organization differentiate itself from rivals – something that could prove to be exceedingly important in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.

By deploying an open data approach, an organization will be able to create a data-centric culture that enables individuals to access data with ease. As such, individuals can help an organization identify and address problems faster than ever before. These individuals can empower an organization to build on top of its existing infrastructure and implement ongoing improvements as well.

“Open data provides a means to create an ecosystem around data,” Schenk noted. “Data is not just for the technologists … data is now becoming core to the operation.”


Tom Schenk is a researcher, author and an expert in a number of fields, including open government, data visualization, business  and research and policy in education. He is currently the Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago, which includes overseeing Chicago’s open data portal, advanced analytics team, and the City’s data and business intelligence team. He leads the strategic use of data to improve the efficiency of city operations and improve the quality of life for residents. Tom has lead the expansion of Chicago’s leading open data portal, deployed predictive analytics in the City to improve data services, and has streamlined the City’s data operations.

Tom wrote Circos Data Visualization How-To, an introductory book on using the biology data visualization libraries for use in the social sciences. He has previously served as a consultant for Institutional Effectiveness and Accountability at the Iowa Departments of Education, where he led efforts to use student-level longitudinal data to evaluation education programs, including an evaluation of Project Lead The Way and calculating rates of return for community college graduates. He also led science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) policy in Iowa and a coauthor of Iowa’s STEM roadmap. Tom was a visiting scholar with Iowa State University’s Office of Community College Research and Policy where he studied graduate-student unionization. He was also a lecturer at Grand View University where he taught statistics and economics. He earned a Master’s degree in economics from Iowa State University and a Bachelor’s from Drake University.

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