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Mayor cheers progress of new city data team

Boston firefighters rushing to a burning building will soon have a new tool: computer-based, interactive maps on engines and ladder trucks that will show floor plans, warn of potentially dangerous chemicals used in a business or laboratory, and highlight the locations of hydrants.

“This will put it at the fingertips of firefighters so they are not walking into a building blind,” said Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn.

The initiative was one of several new data projects highlighted Monday when Mayor Martin J. Walsh showcased the efforts of his new Citywide Analytics Team. Walsh hosted reporters from seven local news organizations to tout the progress of the analytics team, which is part of a broader effort to invigorate city government with data-driven management.


In another new project, the city is analyzing drug overdoses by crunching data from ambulances and the Boston Public Health Commission. The goal is to gain “insight into the likelihood of an individual having a repeat overdose . . . so we can better target our intervention efforts,” said the city’s deputy chief information officer, Matthew Mayrl.

The analytics team is also working with the assessing department to improve the fairness and accuracy of property valuations. It has developed a program that allows administrators in the Fire Department to easily identify employees abusing sick time or violating limits on the number of shifts they can swap with co-workers.

Since taking office, Walsh has often talked about a new data-driven approach at City Hall. Data-driven management is not new to city government. Baltimore launched an initiative in 1999 named “CitiStat.” Former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had a chief analytics officer whose team helped the city crack down on restaurants illegally dumping cooking oil into neighborhood sewers.

In Boston, the administration of former mayor Thomas M. Menino had a data-driven performance management program it called Boston About Results. The new administration has pushed to increase the immediacy of data by installing monitors that display up-to-the-minute information in the office of Walsh and other city officials.


“We’re really taking analytics and data and all this new technology to a new level,” Walsh said. “When I [went] to the Conference of Mayors and talked to other mayors, they don’t have the same thing we do. New York has bits and pieces. Baltimore has some of it. But we’re actually going deeper.”

“We’re ahead of most cities,” Walsh said.

In the zeal to leverage data, the new administration has had some hiccups. Walsh said that in his first year in office he filled 50 percent more potholes, but the numbers were suspect. This winter, the city eliminated a massive backlog of snow complaints by arbitrarily closing more than 9,000 cases, a move Walsh acknowledged was a mistake.

The new data team has had a significant impact at the Inspectional Services Department, a famously tangled bureaucracy that existed largely in the technological dark ages.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.