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Study Suggests London Appoint a Data Tsar

The next mayor of London needs to appoint an official Data Tsar to collect and organize data in a more efficient manner. At least, that’s what a new report from Capital City Foundation says, having reviewed New York City’s data set monitoring practices.

The Pursuit of Becoming Smarter

While many cities drastically need better data solutions and systems in place, London is already in a fairly good position. The Greater London Authority has the robust London Datastore, after all, which aggregates massive amounts of data collected from the various boroughs throughout the capital city. However, what London does not have is the ability to make sense of this data and to apply those findings in practical ways that better the city now – and for future generations.

The Capital City Foundation’s report believes that London’s next mayor needs to step in, and build a dedicated team of analysts to make sense of the data that’s being collected, organized, and stored. “A more effective use of data could radically improve the lives of Londoners in a cost effective way,” said Eddie Copeland, the report’s author. “Problems that blight London’s neighbourhoods such as ‘beds in sheds’ could be resolved if local authorities and the police could access different data sets and target resources in a more effective manner.”

Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

For London officials, the key to launching a new data initiative is to model the system after the most established examples. In addition to looking at New York City – which, many believe, has the most effective system currently in place – there are plenty of other places to look for inspiration.

First off, it’s important to remember that governments are essentially large businesses, when it comes down to basics. That’s why London officials should not be afraid to study how other modern businesses are collecting and utilizing data to effectively grow and meet variable customer demands in the 21st century.

Take, for example, the fact that one report claims that 68.1 per cent of all online shopping carts are abandoned on ecommerce sites. In other words, more than two-thirds of all online shoppers see something they like, think about buying it, and then leave. In response to this data-backed conundrum, businesses have started to encourage those wandering customers to return by allowing them to opt in to email newsletters for future deals. It’s a simple response to an issue that most businesses would not know existed unless data was collected and solutions were creatively applied.

However, London does not always have to resort to studying small business. They can also learn a lot from a city that’s currently doing what many believe that London should do. We’re talking about Rio de Janeiro. Having hosted the 2014 World Cup, and in anticipation of hosting the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, city officials decided that something needed to be done with their ageing infrastructure and tendency for debilitating natural disasters – namely widespread flooding. Their answer was to create a data center that would allow the mayor and other officials to respond.

Rio worked with IBM to develop a unique and effective solution. They built a command center, with advanced weather forecasting and hydrological modeling technology, to prepare for heavy rains as far as 48 hours in advance. Using sensors and video cameras, they are now able to analyze traffic patterns to ensure that weather and transportation issues are properly aligned.

“We have a goal, to make Rio a really smart city, and we know this is a process for the long run,” said Carlos Osorio, the municipal secretary for transportation during the time when the center was being built. “We are just in the beginning, but this beginning is very important because we’re building the foundations that will lead us to the future.”

London, too, is at the beginning of something transformative. As the Capital City Foundation’s report suggests, it may be time to focus on how data can be better used to predict issues and improve the overall quality of life for Londoners everywhere.

Larry Alton is a Freelance Writer