By Jenna Fink SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)– In the basement of Syracuse University’s iSchool, you’ll find students analyzing data. But it’s not for a class assignment. It’s for the city of Syracuse. iConsult Collaborative partnered with the city and Microsoft to help the city better understand its own data and improve the city.
iConsult Collaborative is a university-wide experimental learning program. Students form teams and work on client projects that involve digital transformation.
The partnership is part of the Syracuse Surge initiative to integrate more technology into the city. That initiative was started by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. Art Thomas is the director of the iConsult Collaborative.
“The city is embarking on this adventure of being able to leverage technology and information into a situation that benefits the residents of the city and actually transforms the city into something that is better run,” he said.
The partnership involves every major department in the city. Many departments gather data but don’t have a large enough IT team to efficiently analyze the data.
“Fire, police, permitting, parking. you name it and snow removal as well,” Thomas said. “So we’re working with a number of different areas simultaneously. We have several teams working at one time.”
When iConsult receives data from the city, it comes in raw. Team members clean up the data into a usable set. It takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks to fully analyze the data. The finished product is a colorful dashboard with detailed graphs and tables. Plus, it’s interactive.
Aditi Agrawal is a project manager for the iConsult Collaborative.
“If you have separate data sets you don’t know how its working all together,” she said. “But if you see it on one page, one dashboard with different colors and different graphs you know how they’re performing and then you can know how to work on it in a better way.”
Agrawal says the projects help more than just the city. The benefits are a two-way street.
“The city has given me education so I see the change happening in it,” she said. “How am I contributing to make this a better place to live? Students are getting the right skills and the right platform to use those skills and tools. So its good for everyone involved.”
Microsoft has also formed similar partnerships with universities and city governments in Louisville and Houston.