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GCN : February 2015
OPEN DATA APP DEV Data officials in Chicago are churn- ing out open datasets faster than ever by using technology rather than developers to get the job done. About a year ago, the city government embedded Pentaho Data Integration (PDI), a graphical extract-transform-load (ETL) tool with pre-built and custom com- ponents to process big data, into its Open ETL Utility Kit. The kit provides several utilities and a framework to help governments extract data from a database and upload it to an open data portal using automated ETL processes. Before working with PDI, city work- ers updated datasets manually, said Jon Levy, open data program manager at the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. “Most of it was custom-writ- ten Java code and that just became dif- ficult to maintain and enhance because it required a very complicated skill set,” Levy said. That also meant Java developers were spending time on updates rather than writ- ing applications that could help city work- ers and residents, added Tom Schenk, the city’s chief data officer. “ What’s different now is we have a framework that can be easily used by a lot of people,” Schenk said. “I could also give that tool to a number of users around the Chicago, and they’d to be able to program ETLs that are going be easier for them to understand and easier for them to create. It allows us to be more nimble.” For example, the city was able to tap into an application programming inter- face (API) that monitors water quality at Lake Michigan beaches and uses ETL cre- ated with PDI to push the information out hourly. More recently, an organization used the city’s open data to create a map-based app showing where people need permits to park in Chicago, Schenk said. The two officials also use the informa- tion to perform advanced analytics and to merge data to develop predictive models. And every time something is uploaded to the portal, they get email notices. Other features include a log to track what’s hap- pening in the portal and a tool that lets us- ers monitor how long it took to run ETLs over time to diagnose problems. Chicago’s toolkit is free to download. To set it up, IT managers must configure about six options to orient it and direct it to their portal. From then on, every time an ETL is needed, a base template exists. “Probably the most complex thing of all is to write the code to extract data from a server,” Schenk said. “At that point, you work with a database administrator, who gives you the SQL code or whatever it might be, you extract it from a server and then you configure about four specific things, such as what dataset is this called.” “ The whole workflow is not about cus- tom development, it’s about entering simple questions, simple procedures, and that allows you to get online and running,” Schenk added. The result is that datasets can be opened and updated in an afternoon because the toolkit removes the need to wait on staff members. The data portal can also be extended without having to add more people, said Schenk, noting that automa- tion is the key to successful open data pro- grams without large staffs. Chicago had all the infrastructure in place when it started. The toolkit is com- patible with Windows, Apple and Linux operating systems, making integration easy, Schenk said. He hopes officials at other city govern- ments use the technology to further their own open data programs. “ What we’re looking forward to is get- ting feedback from other cities to see how the ETL can be used and how it can be tweaked,” Schenk said. • The extract-transform-load tool automates the process of extracting information from a database and uploading it to an open data portal Chicago builds ETL toolkit for open data BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ “What we’re looking forward to is getting feedback from other cities to see how the ETL can be used and how it can be tweaked.” – TOM SCHENK, CITY OF CHICAGO CHIEF DATA OFFICER 30 GCN FEBRUARY 2015 • GCN.COM 0215gcn_030.indd 30 2/2/15 9:54 AM