Kansas City data chief takes budgeting role with Houston suburb

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Kansas City, Missouri’s first chief data officer, Eric Roche, assumed the role of chief budget officer this week in the fast-growing Houston suburb of Pearland, Texas, where he said data will continue to play a central role in his work.

Roche announced his first day as Pearland’s new budget chief on Monday via Twitter after spending more than seven years with Kansas City, first as a management fellow and as the city’s inaugural chief data officer from May 2015 through last month. Roche helped lead the city’s open data initiatives and managed KCStat, a public-facing data dashboard that kept residents in the loop on the city’s progress toward affordable housing, equitable transportation and economic development. Roche told StateScoop that he’s also proud of the work he did in creating a data-friendly culture across different city departments. But in moving to a budget office instead of a data-focused office, Roche said he’s accepting an opportunity to facilitate even more citywide change.

Eric Roche (LinkedIn)

“I always felt that where the rubber hits the road is in budget offices, when you’re planning the allocation of resources. That’s what truly determines which city council priorities get done,” Roche said.

Pearland, Texas, doesn’t have a chief data officer, but part of Roche’s responsibility in the city — which has nearly doubled in size over the past two decades to a population of 117,000 — will be to show his colleagues how data analysis can lead to smarter spending on virtually every budget item.

One of his first tasks will be to set up data-driven dashboards on the city’s utility billing process, increasing transparency for the public and making it easier for residents to understand why their water bills are what they are. Roche said he’ll likely analyze the city’s fleet maintenance data to find out where city-owned vehicles consistently need maintenance or what the average lifespan of a vehicle is.

“[Pearland] feels that the future of budget offices is really around looking at data,” Roche said. “Budget shops traditionally are sort of the analyst hub in most mid-sized cities. It’s where you have sort of your analytical capacity already.”

Eventually, the skills that Roche will bring to the budget office could result in a full-fledged data team in Pearland, he said, using the same tools that offices like New York City’s Mayors office of Data Analytics and Kansas City’s DataKC division use — like GIS services and business-intelligence platforms. Those will come as Pearland’s city employees become more comfortable using data to make decisions, Roche said.

Kansas City, meanwhile, will likely build out its data programs around the skills of its next chief data officer, not the other way around, Roche said, because its next CDO could have the “complete opposite” of his skill set.

“It’s about finding somebody who fits that team and their wonderful culture,” he said.

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Eric Roche, Kansas City, NYC MODA, Open Data, Texas
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