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Houston to Hire an "Enterprise Data Officer" to Fight Digital Sprawl

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, July 18 2013

The city of Houston is hiring a new top staffer to fight sprawl — in its databases, not its city streets.

Houston has 2.2 million citizens spread out over 627 square miles, but like many municipalities, Houston’s 22 city departments also have their data spread across a variety of formats. A new enterprise data officer would be in charge of consolidating how that data is stored and shared, which officials hope will increase productivity and revenue while opening more information for public consumption.

“We have our data in all kinds of different systems all over the place,” says Bruce Haupt, Houston’s performance improvement director. To fight the scourge of messy data, and improve access to it for both those who work for the city, and those who live in it, Houston is searching for its first Enterprise Data Officer. The position offers a chance for someone to build a major city’s data policy from the ground up. The city will be hiring another three staffers and a developer in the IT department to assist its data efforts.

“I would say that generally speaking open data as a concept is relatively new for us,” says Haupt. He says the city has worked on improving its data policies since 2005 and 2006, but that much of that effort has focused on improving the flow of inter-departmental data, and not getting it out to the public. The new enterprise data officer will lead internal data sharing, help establish data standards and procedures, and then push information out into the daylight.

Houston’s creation of this position comes in part from Haupt’s own efforts to organize data between city departments in the last year or two. Haupt’s team has focused on making revenue collection clearer for the city, and tried to bring all city customer and debtor information into one place. By improving Houston’s internal collection and sharing, the city can collect more of the money owed it, and avoid doing something drastic, like raise taxes. According to Haupt, Houston’s internal data system is a good template for developing the city’s open data portal, something the enterprise data officer will be in charge of.

Right now, Houston has over 215 datasets available on its open data portal, but Haupt admits it’s not as user friendly as it could be. The enterprise data officer will ensure the portal is continually refreshed with up to date information, provide it in a variety of formats, increase its metadata, and build in visualization tools.

The position is also inspired by the tech industry’s growth in Houston.

“The whole tech startup and ecosystem has been exploding,” says Haupt. In May, he helped set up Houston’s first official hackathon, but he’s been aware of similar projects in San Francisco, New York, and the work of New Urban Mechanics in Philadelphia and Boston. Closer to home he witnessed NASA’s Houston staff participate in the International Space Apps Challenge.

Haupt hopes the new position will be able to strengthen the bond between city hall and civic hackers.

“We can get some great ideas and build some things that we couldn’t have otherwise.”

Houston is looking to fill the position ASAP.

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