Cities don’t need money to start using data

June 06, 2019 by Stefan Summesberger

Jeanne Holm became the Deputy CIO of the City of Los Angeles and also the Mayor’s Senior Technology Advisor in 2016 to deliver great city services like a 311 call centre, public television, and social media, and public-private collaborations for technology innovations ranging from data science to broadband. She was formerly the Evangelist for open data for the White House, the leader for African open data for the World Bank, and the Chief Knowledge Architect at NASA. We still have amazing memories Jeanne’s Keynote Speech at SEMANTiCS 2015 which is why for the 15th anniversary edition this year time has come to catch up. In this interview, Jeanne provides very interesting insights into beneficial use of data for government purposes and her innovative projects. Furthermore she shares with her most exciting moments with Semantic Technologies, Linked Data and Knowledge Management.

Typically one would think that CIOs work in companies or businesses. You are Deputy CIO of the City of Los Angeles. Tell us of the challenges a Cities CIO faces.

My area includes Customer Engagement around technology for City departments and the public. This includes internal services like a help desk, Google applications, enterprise network operations, technology support services, audio and video support, and data and predictive analytics. Public facing services include four television stations and cable regulation, citywide social media, a 311 call center, the Data Science Federation (with 18 local universities working on City data science challenges), coordination of 5G deployment and digital inclusion, and smart cities. We recently launched ShakeAlertLA, a mobile app that provides an earthquake early warning system to 500,000 people -- the first in the nation to do so.

In addition, I serve as the Mayor’s Senior Technology Advisor, supporting special projects where tech is used to help with homelessness, youth employment, education, housing, autonomous vehicles, robotics, sustainability, and resiliency.

Check out amazing use cases and projects in the fields of Knowledge Graphs, Semantics and AI - Register for SEMANTiCS 2019!

LA is a digital flagship city. Can everything be automated?

No, it can’t, but the data about everything can be collected and shared. Many things can be automated fully or partially, but like most cities, Los Angeles also has to do physical things like pick up trash. That process collects lots of data (such as from GPS devices on the trucks to optimize routing), but still requires a truck to drive from home to home.

What are the three most important processes that cities should definitely automate?

  1. Procurement (buying, purchases, payments)

  2. Human resources (timekeeping, payroll, career development, management)

  3. Transportation whenever possible (bus and train planning and schedules, automated traffic signals, scheduling street repairs, traffic flow analysis, etc.)

You use data science for social purposes. Which project is particularly close to your heart?

I love all my projects, but …  The Data Science Federation is an innovative way to create lots of social good by partnering students and professors with City departments to better inform policies through data. I’ve been a professor at UCLA for 20 years, and also worked in government for 35 years. The Data Science Federation (DSF) empowers the following people:

  • Students get the chance to make a significant difference and see the impact they can have working in the government, they have projects that look amazing on their resumes, and we notify them of new job postings (we are hiring ~15,000 people in the next three years at the City)

  • Professors have access to real data and interesting problems, and we encourage them to publish the results in peer-reviewed publications and conferences. We have been successful in bringing $1.5M in grants to the City and universities based on this work.

  • The City staff are presented with new ideas and exposed to new technology in a way that encourages learning, and we improve the data literacy of our City employees

  • Really creative, youth-oriented, out-of-the-box ideas are made in a way that enriches everyone, especially the citizens of Los Angeles

  • We have now expanded this program to include 88 other cities to share the wealth of good ideas

Cities like Berlin have tried to count their homeless people. You already are a step ahead and work on the problems of the homeless. Do all city councils in the US move at a pace as fast as yours?

Mayors and City Councils work at different paces. In smaller cities, these positions are volunteer or part time. In the City of Los Angeles, they are full time positions and this allows our elected officials to focus fully on the projects at hand. We also work with an NGO, United Way, to conduct an annual homeless count, walking through the streets of Los Angeles over three days with thousands of volunteers. That and other data allow us to work on aspects of data analytics (where are people being evicted), predictive analytics (who is at risk of becoming homeless and what are the best ways to help them now), and what interventions and types of housing are most helpful. Our City Council and Mayor are very tech-savvy and data-centric and have funded a Data and Predictive Analytics division to help unravel these issues. That way there is a group of people who can address urgent as well as long term data science issues.

Many Cities are short of money. Can these cities benefit from Big Data as well or do they need money above all else?

Cities do not need money to start using data. Sources like, Esri, Open Street Map, and others provide a place to start. Models like our Data Science Federation can bring experts and youth to work on projects for free. Additionally, groups like Code for America or Code for Africa can help connect technologists with cities. Using structured, organized, and standardized data is a great place to start, while working your way up to linked data!

Linked Open Data, the Semantic Web, and Knowledge Management must play major roles in your professional life - What are the occasions you felt the luckiest to have such technologies at hand?

Do you want to learn more about Knowledge Management, the Semantic Web and Linked Data? Register for SEMANTiCS 2019!


The annual SEMANTiCS conference is the meeting place for professionals who make semantic computing work, and understand its benefits and know its limitations. Every year, SEMANTiCS attracts information managers, IT-architects, software engineers, and researchers, from organisations ranging from NPOs, universities, public administrations to the largest companies in the world.