December 16, 2013

What Do Big Data And Kansas City Plaza Lights Have In Common?

I first moved to San Francisco in 1996 to pursue a professional career in Silicon Valley. Though I now call the City by the Bay my home, my hometown of Kansas City will always hold a special place in my heart. Every December 21st, I make the 4-hour flight back home to Kansas City, where the town celebrates Christmas like no other. It is home to the Plaza Lights, one of the most beautiful holiday light displays in the country, and when the lights were turned on this year, it marked the 84th year of this great tradition.

Those who know Kansas City think of amazing Christmas lights, the world’s best BBQ, and a comeback season for the Chiefs football team. What many do not know is that the city’s tech community has been growing exponentially. So much so that a Kansas City was recently host to the first Big Data Kansas City Festival.

Platfora’s mission is to empower customers to transform their businesses into fact-based enterprises, so we were delighted when, as part of the Big Data Festival, we were invited to participate in a civic data Hackathon to analyze Kansas City’s public data to solve current crime rate challenges facing the community.

The goal of the Hackathon was to analyze 311 calls, crime, vacant lots/buildings, and damaged buildings to identify ways to help combat crime and increase safety. Eight teams were given a “mountain of data” from the different sources and offered the options to runCloudera alongside Tableau and/or Platfora Big Data Analyticssoftware. Hackathon teams were comprised of business analysts and IT managers and they identified creative solutions to help Kansas City combat poverty, provide better living conditions and streamline city operations.

On November 21, Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced the winner of the Hackathon: DST Systems, the only team that decided to run its data solely on Platfora. In under an hour, DST Systems was able to get Platfora up and running to extract insights from the data in a matter of minutes. The team analyzed crime in Kansas City by taking a look at crime rates, time and location. They found emerging behavioral patterns and correlations in that data to help the city combat crime by providing police services at the right place and time.

In a few weeks, Mayor Sly James will present findings from the winning team to the city council and discuss ways they can utilize and implement these insights. We always hear about the potential of big data and how it could theoretically offer insights to drive businesses, but in Kansas City, the power of big data became real. Far beyond numbers on a spreadsheet, we saw the community and large corporations alike come together to analyze data and find tangible ways to make improvements to the city in which they live and work.

One of the keys to improving crime rates is interrogating the data until it surrenders the facts. We were thrilled to work alongside DST to help the city of Kansas City improve safety and lower crime rates.

And this Dec. 21st, when I board the plane for Kansas City, I will do so with the satisfaction that Platfora is helping to make my hometown, and visitors to the Plaza Lights, a little safer.

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