Administration and Regulatory Affairs

Civic Hack Night Helps City Employees Connect and Create Solutions

Each month our community partner, Sketch City, hosts a Civic Hack Night. These events help the City connect with the local technology community in order to increase cooperation and create innovative solutions to pressing problems. Civic Hack Night works because it allows for City employees to interact with members of the technology community in a friendly, informal environment in order to describe problems, broaden perspectives, and introduce new technology solutions.

Sometimes the collaborative environment provided by Civic Hack Night works so well that City employees are able to help other City employees overcome obstacles and advance projects forward. In fact, a couple months ago City of Houston IT extraordinaire Jim Cole and I experienced just that.

Jim and I started talked while chomping down on pizza at the November Civic Hack Night. Jim mentioned he recently sat in a meeting on a records retention project that had been happening "on-again-off-again" for about a year. The project team, consisting of stakeholders from multiple departments, was attempting to categorize employees by their job code in order to determine how long to retain e-mails. The City retains all e-mails for a default of two years and there are other e-mails we tag by keywords in order to retain longer. To be extra safe, the project team wanted a methodology based on job code to change the default retention period from two years to four years for certain employees. The project team needed:

  • An automated way to pull employees from our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system;
  • A way to tag the employees by their job code; and,
  • A method to send that stratified list to the Outlook server.

Over the course of the hour, Jim and I developed a go-forward. I showed Jim that we had a reporting environment that received the employee roster regularly from our ERP system, so we could use it instead of starting from scratch. Jim already had the list of job codes we needed to tag, so we added this as a look-up table to our reporting environment; we also enhanced the list based on our subject area knowledge. Finally, Jim knew he could use PowerShell to add the users we tagged to a Windows Active Directory group that could then be used by the Outlook server and our e-mail retention software to handle the retention periods.

The next day, we presented our plan. After a couple hours of work, we had the solution in place. We also developed a data visualization in Tableau to help our records management staff see how employees are being tagged. You can click on the thumbnail below to open a screenshot of the dashboard we developed.

Civic Hack Nights are for city employees too, and Jim and I learned it firsthand. The collaborative environment provided works when City employees are present to interact and share ideas. I would encourage any employee on the fence about attending a Civic Hack Night to come out and see what it's all about. You can learn more about Hack Night by visiting http://www.meetup.com/sketchcity/.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Experimenting with Google Heatmaps for 311 Data

As promoters of both open data and performance indicators, the Performance Improvement Division loves being able to highlight interesting uses of 311 data. As the City of Houston’s non-emergency help line, 311 is a great way to measure what’s important to citizens and the community. We’re able to see citizens’ concerns and sentiments by reviewing 311 service request tickets. Recently, 311 System Analyst Jim Cole wanted to better visualize the impact of the Memorial Day flooding using service requests as part of a research and development project:

311 Flooding Cases in the Past 12 Months; a full screen version is available at http://houstontx.gov/heatmaps/fhm12m.html?v=1

Since then, Jim has built out a collection of heatmaps that are accessible to the public at http://www.houstontx.gov/heatmaps/. The maps are updated every 15 minutes with fresh data extracts from the 311 system. The flat files Google's API uses to make the maps are available for anyone to use in their own projects on the heatmaps page as well. If you’re looking for a richer set of 311 data to play with, don’t forget to check out the 311 open data dataset and if you want to see more cool 311 metrics, check out the 311 Performance Dashboards.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Four More Open Datasets Put on Automatic Refresh

Good news from the Open Data front: we’ve automated the refresh cycle on four more open datasets on the City of Houston interim Open Data Portal. The four datasets are related to Administrative and Regulatory Affairs’ Commercial Permitting operations and include data about alcohol permits, game rooms and coin-operated machines, and various other occupational permits. The datasets are refreshed on the first Sunday of each month and are available in Excel 2007/2010 format (XLSX). The datasets each use the same columns and share a common metadata file which allows all four datasets to be combined for a more complete picture of active commercial permits.

You can find the newly automated datasets at:

Let us know what you think by using the "Ideas and Feedback" button on the Open Data Portal.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Discount Transit Fare Savings

Over 1,300 City of Houston employees receive monthly stipends for their commute to work on Metro buses. In our continuous search for savings, we wanted to know how many of these employees were eligible for senior discount fares offered by Metro, but were not currently receiving the discount. Metro offers 50% off fare for seniors over 65, and free rides to anyone over 70. Although local fares are only $1.25 each way, riders are charged more the further they travel, and commutes to Zone 4 are $4.50 a ride.

The audit found 55 City employees over 65 and 10 riders over 70 were paying full fares for their commute. By switching out their full fare transit cards to a discounted card, and moving those over 70 to a Freedom card (free rides), the City will save approximately $46k this year from transit discounts.

Metro Fare Zones

The Transit Office now plans to flag soon-to-be 65 year old riders in their system one month in advance of their eligibility so they have time to prepare their discounted fare cards - delivering a discounted transit card just in time for their birthday.

This is just another example of how we are stretching the value of every tax dollar!

Mimi Xi is a Senior Staff Analyst at the City of Houston.

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ARA - Parking Management Onboard Training

Project Summary: Created Parking Management on-boarding training, resulting in reduced customer complaints and an average of $390 per day/employee of savings by reducing the “found not liable citations” written by parking management officers.

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Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a customer centric way of thinking and problem solving that seeks to continually identify and eliminate waste.

BARC Service Requests Integrated into 311 Performance Dashboards

BARC (Animal Shelter and Adoptions) service requests are now integrated into the 311 Performance Dashboards! You can analyze BARC service requests to your heart’s content and compare calls such as stray animal pickup and animal control violations alongside other 311 service requests. Check out some of the different views by browsing the thumbnails below.

Back in April, we blogged on our efforts to pull BARC service requests and integrate the data into the 311 Performance Dashboards and, eventually, host the underlying data on the City's Interim Open Data Portal. BARC service requests have not been historically included in the 311 Performance Dashboards because they are logged into a different work management system than all other 311 service requests.

The first step towards integrating BARC and 311 data came in July when BARC service requests were included in the FY14-Q4 Performance Insight report. Integration was solidified with the release of the FY15-Q1 Performance Insight report. At the beginning of the month, we completed the integration of the BARC data into the 311 Dashboards. As we continue forward with implementation of the City's Open Data Policy, we'll continue to work towards eventually making BARC service requests available as an open data set.

Click on the thumbnails below to open the 311 Performance Dashboards pre-filtered to BARC views

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Analytical 311 Service Request Map Now Available

The 311 Performance Dashboards now include an analytical 311 Service Request Map. This map visualization will be updated in conjunction with the 311 Performance Dashboards on a monthly basis and is not meant to replace the map available on the Houston 311 website or the GIS services available for 311 service requests.

You can read more about our adventures in geocoding and how you can use the 311 daily extract files for your own mapping purposes at http://performance.houstontx.gov/content/adventures-geospatial-data-x-and-y-doesn%E2%80%99t-mean-what-you-think-it-means.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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