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Equity Through Data Lead: ‘Data Helps Us Understand Who We Are and Are Not Serving’

An image of Arti Tangri, equity through data lead for San Jose, next to a quote that reads: "While there are regional programs and efforts underway for equity, there is nothing when it comes to data. All local governments in the region face similar problems and can learn from each other if only we can easily share information with and learn from each other."
As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to inform readers about state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Arti Tangri is the inaugural equity data lead at the city of San Jose, a role she has had since June 2022. Tangri joined San Jose in January 2016 as data architect, a role that was her first in the public sector and which she held until being named equity data lead. Her previous private-sector experience includes four years at Expedia, including nearly two as a software design engineer in test, and more than a year as a business analyst at Extron Logistics LLC of Milpitas.

Tangri has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Bhilai Institute of Technology in central India and a Master of Business Administration degree in Information Systems from Faculty of Management Studies, College of Materials Management in Jabalpur, India.

Industry Insider — California: As the city’s equity data lead, how do you describe your role? Are you the city’s very first-ever equity data lead, and if so, can you explain a bit about how the position was created?

Tangri: This is the first-ever equity data lead role in the city, which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. In the last few years, the city has been moving toward using more and more data to support decision-making, and in 2020 the city launched its Office of Racial Equity. This role was created to bring the data and equity work together. The city recently launched its efforts on performance measures and standardization, which has been (and will continue to be) a key component of my role. As we look at the city’s performance, we need to be able to break down the measures to understand who is being impacted by city services and in which way. This is still developing, but the focus in this role has been around finding the most meaningful data that will help the city get a complete picture of the services we provide and its impact on the community.

IICA: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? How big a role do you personally play in writing that strategic plan?

Tangri: Our IT strategic plan is published on our website here. The next IT strategic plan is in the works and will be published in the same location when ready. I am part of the IT leadership team that is developing the next IT strategic plan. My major contribution to the new strategic plan is the data strategy, which has been in the backlog for the city for a while now. We have been actively using data since the beginning of time, but never have we planned it out. This will be a step toward being mindful of how we use data at the city and making sure we align our priorities with data and equity in focus.

IICA: What big initiatives or projects are coming up for you and your team? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Tangri: We are developing our data governance structure now. This effort will last for months, where we will be putting together governance standards and processes to align different departments on use of data, and tie that all up to the city’s strategic priorities. From the technology perspective, we are looking at exploring a cloud-based data warehouse to supplement our existing on-prem data infrastructure, to allow and simplify internal and external data sharing. Some more information on our approach can be found on our website here. Lastly, we are in the process of putting out an RFP within the next month or two for a full stack data analytics platform, with a goal to have access to not only a high-end data platform with advanced and predictive analytics, but also data engineers and data scientists to tackle difficult data challenges that we do not have the resources at the city to handle.

IICA: In your opinion, what should local government be doing more of in equity and in data?

Tangri: Something that I’ve heard a lot at the city and has stayed with me is, “Our problems do not stop at our borders.” That is a very powerful statement which needs a lot of work, especially when it comes to data. While there are regional programs and efforts underway for equity, there is nothing when it comes to data. All local governments in the region face similar problems and can learn from each other, if only we can easily share information with and learn from each other.

IICA: How do you see the relationship between data and equity? How do they best work together?

Tangri: Data helps us understand who we “are” and “are not” serving. It helps us understand the impact city services have on the residents. Equity puts things into perspective for data and gives it a sense of purpose. The two are closely intertwined and make each other meaningful.

IICA: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have on your team? What is the overall budget?

Tangri: The city’s overall budget is $3.5 billion, and the Information Technology Department has a budget of $43 million, with around 120 employees in the IT department. The data team in the IT department has six people. Other departments in the city also have IT and data staff, which are not included here.

IICA: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Tangri: I prefer email. The city’s website is the best place for vendors to familiarize themselves with the happenings in the city.

IICA: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Tangri: I was able to support the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force on the Data and Budgeting Committee in 2022. That was an eye-opening experience for me to see how the city, county and the community-based organizations came together to solve really hard problems. The way the different organizations were able to work collaboratively with the limited resources and support each other was very reassuring.

IICA: What has surprised you most in government technology during the past 12 months?

Tangri: The awareness of how integrated AI has become in our lives. It is like an afterthought after the ChatGPT explosion, where we are coming to realize how AI has become a part of everything we do at work and in our personal lives. We are now trying to walk backwards tracing the path of AI, which continues to move forward at lightning speed.

IICA: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Tangri: I am subscribed to the Government Technology* email, one of my primary sources of information in the gov tech space. I am a big fan of NPR/KQED and that also contributes to my source for news.

IICA: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Tangri: I am a baker and a gardener outside of work and love to spend time in my kitchen and yard. I have mostly been a fiction reader, but lately am starting to enjoy nonfiction equally. John Grisham has been my all-time favorite author. A couple of non-fiction books I’ve really enjoyed are Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil and This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth.

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.