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Chicago’s tech guru envisions ‘smart’ services

City Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolvposes for photograph Tuesday May 24 2011 City Hall Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

City of Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolva poses for a photograph Tuesday, May 24, 2011, at City Hall in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 1, 2011 1:00PM

Chicago’s new tech guru, John Tolva, wants to improve your city experiences by measuring and analyzing data — whether it means cutting your wait in line or letting you instantly see all of your transportation options for your trip.

“Data are the vital signs of the city. This is data generated from people, services and the infrastructure itself,” said Tolva, 38, a fourth-generation Chicagoan who previously worked as IBM’s director of citizenship and technology.

Chicago has a lot of catching up to do to make these improvements, he said during an interview Tuesday at City Hall.

Tolva points to San Francisco’s parking “app” as an example of how Chicago might make getting a parking ticket irrelevant before it could even turn into a nuisance. San Francisco residents and visitors can download a free mobile app to find available parking spaces and street parking in real time. Meter prices are adjusted constantly based on demand, and alerts can be sent to drivers before their parking spaces expire. Drivers pay by phone at select meters.

Besides leveraging data, Tolva’s job as chief technology officer involves mapping the city’s broadband connectivity in order to fill the holes, promoting Chicago as a good place for tech companies to do business and innovating “full stop” by turning the city into an interactive platform.

Tolva is counting on his chief data officer, Brett Goldstein, to expand upon Goldstein’s work developing a Chicago Police Department program that aims to predict when and where crime will happen. “We want to apply analytics to sets of data to identify patterns,” Tolva said. That could mean comparing a neighborhood’s 911 and 311 calls, or analyzing overlapping data from the Department of Transportation and Streets and Sanitation Department to figure out how to better deliver city services.

“I am an unapologetic lover of the city,” Tolva said. “My absolute mandate is to make data the center of city services.”

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