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Cuomo Appoints Nicklin and Hendler as Top Advisors to New York Open Data Initiatives

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, September 20 2013

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that he was appointing three special advisors to help move the state's open data initiatives forward.

Andrew Nicklin, most recently director of research and development at the City of New York's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, will be the director of Open NY. According to a Cuomo press release, he will work to expand the state's open data website, help engage with the developer and researcher community through Open Data events and oversee the design of a model web platform on which municipalities can share information. He will also be coordinating with the state's Office of Information Technology Services to evaluate and provide recommendations about the management, design and structure of the Open NY platform. At DoiTT, Nicklin oversaw the city's Open Data platform, the implementation of the Open Data law, and helped design the city's Open Data Policy and Technical Standards Manual.

James Hendler will serve as an Open Data Advisor for the Open.ny.gov platform.. He has previously served as an "Internet Web Expert" adviser on the federal Data.gov project and was recently named director of the new Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he is head of the Department of Computer Science. In his new role, he will be helping to strengthen the state's open data technologies, assisting in building relationships with the developer communities, as well as researching Big Data opportunities and developing innovation labs in the state.

Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany, will serve as an Open NY Policy Advisor for the Open.ny.gov platform. She will be focusing on strengthening the state's open data policies and practices.

All three will report to Cuomo's office, working closely with Barbara Cohn, the state’s Chief Data Officer and principal information management advisor to the Chief Information Officer Brian Digman, and Kishor Bagul, the state’s Chief Technology Officer.

Cuomo has been ramping up his open government efforts this year, from announcing an Open Data push in January, launching an open data platform that as of mid-March incorporated data from over 70 New York municipalities, publishing a draft of the state's open data guidelines on GitHub, to launching a first-of-its-kind database of lobbying information at the end of July.

"I think this is a coup for Cuomo," said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany. "He took NYC's Open Data guru, and got the White House's Open Data guru, and will have both involved with running New York State's program." Kaehny emphasized that it is "not an every-day announcement" that talent from the "two premiere open data programs in the U.S. [will be] under one roof at the state....This is a very spectacular way to get this thing revved up. This is a good as it gets in terms of national talent."

He said it was "pretty unusual" for New York State to be the top leader in this way. "This shows a governor who's very interested and very committed to making New York a national leader," Kaehny said.

Previously, the Open NY efforts were a joint effort of staff in Cuomo's office and the ITS department, he said. Now that for the first time there will be staff members with Open NY in their titles and focusing on the initiatives, Kaehny said he expected a transformation "that will vastly accelerate data releases and activity and public interaction with the Open NY platform," as the state gets ready to publish its open data handbook in the next few months.

He said he didn't expect the departure of Nicklin to hurt New York City's continuing Open Data efforts, with the release of the city's Open Data law compliance plans expected for next week.

"There's tons of momentum going into the new administration," he said. "You don't replace Andrew Nicklin, he's awesome. [But] Bloomberg's set the table for this successor. I'm optimistic. Both De Blasio and Lhota have a really good track record on Open Data," he added. "While you can't lose [New York City Chief Analytics Officer Mike Flowers] and Nicklin and not expect some hiccups," Kaehny said that those two were key to laying the groundwork and that the next stage of New York City's Open Data efforts was more a "matter of execution and process." He added that there is "no real opposition to the efforts" and that the main challenge is "bureaucratic inertia."

Kaehny emphasized that Nicklin's move to New York State, rather than a different part of the country, would lead to more synergies between New York City and New York State's effort's, especially with the state's focus on sharing data from different municipalities.

"The open government initiative has a real foothold in state government," Kaehny emphasized. While in the past the state has often lagged behind technologically, he suggested that within two years New York State could be the top "open data place" on the national level. "This is a governor who wants to be the best," he said, noting that Couomo would likely be making these efforts a key part of his reelection platform.

Meanwhile, he said for outside advocacy groups, the developments will "mean a tremendous amount of work" over the next year to help shape and optimize the language in the state's upcoming Open Data handbook and engage with the technology community and other outside stakeholders.