22 April 2019
New York City has set up a data analysis center to monitor different metrics, detect problems and solve them in a timely fashion. Photo: Bloomberg
New York City has set up a data analysis center to monitor different metrics, detect problems and solve them in a timely fashion. Photo: Bloomberg

Smart City devt: Insights from a former NY deputy mayor

Hong Kong has embarked on the journey of turning itself into a Smart City. As it maps out its plans, the city can draw a lot of lessons from successful examples overseas. Recently I had a chance to talk with Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City and co-author of the book “The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance.” I will share with readers, in three parts, some elements of our discussion. Here is the first one:

Q: Can you talk about your experience in building a Smart City in New York?

A: I started researching on the use of data analysis in city planning when I was the deputy mayor. I worked with then mayor Michael Bloomberg. We wanted to understand how to use data to detect problems and tackle them before they worsen.

We already have very advanced data analysis tools and AR applications. That enables us to better collect structural and nonstructural data. More importantly, cities should consider themselves as a platform. How can you build a platform to collect various sorts of data? I think the change in last five years is that governments initially want to use data to fix internal problems, and now such capability has become a platform.

Q: Such work involves massive data consolidation, data from Internet of Things devices. What are the main difficulties? How did you address them?

A: Some are technical issues. But the biggest issue stems from government itself, since it’s made up of different departments.

We need to empower some departments to build a data analysis center, aggregating data, set up rules and ensure data security and sharing.

Government officials have a lot of experience in communicating with different people, but they lack experience in using data tools.

The government has set up a data analysis center at the top level. The center is in charge of monitoring different metrics and we focus on solving practical issues. There are huge amounts of data being generated every day, which keeps data analysts very busy.

I asked five junior colleagues to visit the cabinet secretary general committee every day, and ask them the top three issues most critical to improving their departments’ work.

You have to encourage senior officials to think from different angles. For example, building a shelter for the homeless may sound like a solution, but the real issue is how to prevent people from becoming homeless.

I hope officials can come up with questions constantly, and solutions in some departments can be applied to other departments.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 16

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Venture Partner of Sequoia Capital China, former head of the data committee and vice president at Alibaba Group.

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