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3/26/2012
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Cloud Of Government Data Grows Over Chicago

City of Chicago, Cook County, and state of Illinois back Metro Chicago Data Convergence Cloud to give citizens access to government data from one Web portal.

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The state of Illinois and two regional governments in the Chicago area have joined forces to converge their open-data repositories in a centralized website giving people one place to access data from each jurisdiction, officials said.

With the help of cloud service provider Socrata, the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago, and Cook County have developed and launched the Metro Chicago Data Convergence Cloud as part of a transparency effort connecting data from each jurisdiction via a cloud-computing environment.

Socrata and government officials--Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel--unveiled the effort last week, with officials lauding it as a way to break down barriers between previously siloed state and regional government data sets and provide better unified government services for Chicago area residents.

[ Learn how the state government in Minnesota is making use of cloud. Read Minnesota Completes Migration To Microsoft Cloud. ]

"This unprecedented initiative will foster innovation, economic development, and more efficient delivery of services," said Mayor Emanuel, in a posting on the Cook County blog. "When we break down bureaucracies and our governments work together, we open new doors for our constituents."

In addition to giving people access to data sets from each jurisdiction's open-data repositories, the site also offers composite data sets and tools that draw on data from across the three repositories.

These include an interactive map explorer for the area's hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities that are operated by the city, the county, or the state, a common directory of government buildings and facilities in the metro Chicago area, and a package of administrative data for businesses that includes tax, permits, investment incentives, and regulation data.

The site--available online at MetroChicagoData.com--divides data into common themes, such as healthcare, public safety, housing, and education, and provides full-text indexing of every data set's content to simplify people's search experience, according to Socrata.

The converged data cloud also has back-end features that allow for data sharing across the three repositories it draws from--data.cityofchicago.org, data.cookcountyil.gov and data.illinois.gov. Cloud federation services provided by Socrata, for example, automatically create a connected data cloud across the three sites without duplicating data, according to the company.

Use of Socrata's Open Data API, or SODA, also gives developers and other third parties a standard way to access data sets from each jurisdiction to create new applications.

President Obama launched the federal government's transparency effort his first day in office, with the Data.gov site as its linchpin for giving citizens and agencies unprecedented access to government data sets.

While other state and regional governments--the cities of San Francisco and New York and the state of Oregon among them--have followed suit with their own open data efforts, the Chicago initiative is the first time multiple jurisdictions have joined together to leverage the cloud to cross open data boundaries.

Indeed, shared services are poised to be the next step in the government's sector's move to the cloud, as federal agencies and separate state and local entities begin to see the benefits of allowing data and services to cross boundaries. U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel has already outlined a Shared Services strategy as part of the federal government's future strategy to continue to cut costs and streamline IT processes.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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