Month: January 2019

For and with the people: An introduction to government digital service

Photo: UK Government Digital Service
Photo: UK Government Digital Service

As the general public increasingly expects the civic user experience to be as refined as the ones we have with our consumer electronics, digital service delivery has become a priority for governments locally and globally.

This growing demand has ushered in an era of government digital service teams, focused specifically on delivering a better online experience and, as the UK Government Digital Service says, “help government work better for everyone.”

These new organizations include UK Government Digital Service, 18F, U.S. Digital Service, Canadian Digital Service, Argentina’s Gobierno Digital, New Zealand’s Digital.govt.nz, Australian Digital Transformation Agency, France’sEtaLab and Singapore’s Government Digital Service.

At the state and local level, there is San Francisco Digital Services, Boston Digital, Digital New South Wales, NYC Planning Labs, California Child Welfare Digital Services, Digital Services Georgia and Massachusetts Digital Service, to name just a few.

As more governments at every level adopt some form of service delivery with an emphasis on improving the digital experience, it’s helpful to understand the context, history and evolution of some of these, so that future instances can better start and scale with more efficiency and effectiveness than their predecessors.

Defining delivery

While these organizations vary in scope and approach, the overarching objectives are similar. Each is keenly focused on enhancing the public’s online experience with government.

As Canada Chief Information Officer Alex Benay recently wrote:

“The term ‘digital government’ is not a buzzword for flashy new government websites, apps or the end of paperwork. Rather than an exclusively technological transformation, ‘digital government’ presents an opportunity for a cultural and operational shift that is much more than the digitization of government services. It is about cultivating an environment that prioritizes citizens and promotes streamlined, secure service delivery supported by technology. It is about reimagining the service relationship with citizens to remain relevant. To do this, government must build an innovative and agile public service, with modern governance structures that correspond to the new digital landscape.”

Some of these organizations strategically and smartly extend beyond reactive work or proactive service-specific work and invest in deeper resources to address more mundane bureaucratic issues, including streamlining procurement and approval processes, improving recruitment and hiring, streamlining backend processes, incorporating technology open standards, and helping to adopt product management practices. The ones that are empowered to holistically address these issues as a unit are emerging as more unified, scaling their momentum and impact beyond just the standard strategy of tacking on an unenforceable innovation role to the IT department. Of note is that none of the successful ones have emerged from pure technology organizations.

Here’s a survey of how some pitch their offerings.

UK Government Digital Service:

“We help government work better for everyone by leading digital transformation … We help people interact with government and support government to operate more effectively and efficiently.”

18F:

“18F partners with agencies to improve the user experience of government. … We help other government agencies build, buy, and share technology products.”

U.S. Digital Service:

“The United States Digital Service is a startup at The White House, using design and technology to deliver better services to the American people. … We partner leading technologists with dedicated public servants to improve the usability and reliability of our government’s most important digital services.”

San Francisco Digital Services:

“San Francisco Digital Services works with other City departments to improve public services. We use technology to make it easier for people to get things done. … We’re re-thinking how public services are designed, by understanding what our users need and building with an agile approach.”

New South Wales:

“Helping you deliver great government services. … Find the building blocks for creating user-centred digital services, as well as policy, tools and guidance.”

And the most elegant overview from Canadian Digital Service:

“We are focused on delivery: helping government design and build better services.”

The universal government services mantra is simple:

  • provide better online user experiences
  • leverage modern technologies
  • deploy iterative project management practices
  • fix procurement
  • recruit and hire great people

History, modus operandi

Each of these delivery teams have emerged from different contexts, creating less of an evolved path to a service delivery panacea, but ones that represent the respective leadership, politics, priorities and events of their respective times.

Since its 2011 founding, the UK GDS has served as the inspiration for all service teams that have launched since.

Its genesis came from a 2010 report, “Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution,” that advocated for bold recommendations, including a unified digital presence, a designated team with “absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments,” and a “CEO for Digital” in the Cabinet Office with “absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APls) and the power to direct all government online spending.”

In 2013, GDS had 200 employees. Today, it has more than 850 managing delivery, guidance, a marketplace and multiple platforms and products. It has become the blueprint for how government can elegantly execute digital services holistically and sustainably.

In March 2014, 18F emerged from the Obama White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program. 18F’s founding, like GDS, was more proactive, but with little direction, mandate or authority, announcing it would “provide cutting-edge support for our federal partners that reduces cost and improves service.”

In true startup fashion, 18F experimented over time with its value offering, from delivery to consulting, ultimately moving towards the latter, particularly related to procuring digital services.

A key difference with 18F than other digital teams is that its directive is self-sufficiency, which it has yet to achieve. As 18F states on its website, “We are cost-recoverable, which means we don’t receive appropriated funds from Congress and must charge partner agencies for our work.”

18F has provided significant leadership and long-term impact, executing its vision through evergreen work, including comprehensive guides, design standards, open source advocacy and a public operations handbook. This foundational work, which doesn’t get the full credit it deserves, has allowed for exponential momentum around agile, open source, procurement modernization, web best practices to scale and expedite within the federal government, but also beyond.

Today, it is integrated into the U.S. General Service Administration’s Technology Transformation Service, losing some of its startup personality and distinguishable brand, but still provides impactful work to the broader U.S. federal government ecosystem. 18F currently has approximately 120 employees.

Subsequently, several 18F alumni now lead digital service teams elsewhere, including Aaron Snow as CEO of the Canadian Digital Service, and Hillary Hartley as chief digital officer for Ontario province.

The Obama White House established the U.S. Digital Service in August 2014 in response to the mishandled 2013 Healthcare.gov launch. Much of its early work was highly reactive, supporting troubled federal government technology projects.

It now provides more proactive delivery support, but also helps build agency-specific digital teams across the federal government. Like 18F, it has provided some evergreen resources, including the Digital Services Playbook, innovative technology procurement guidance and a fresh approach to brand, culture, recruitment and hiring, but its primary focus is delivery.

USDS currently has approximately 165 members working across federal agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Small Business Administration.

While both 18F and USDS have complementary offerings and collaborate at times, the lack of a unified purpose and brand or universal mandate and authority differentiates the United States federal government’s approach than that of UK’s, and even most other digital service teams.

The foundation for 18F and USDS was laid through a number of earlier digital initiatives that culminated in the Obama White House releasing its federal government digital strategy, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” in May 2012. This strategy called for many of the themes digital services teams today address as operating principles and priorities.

Many other state and local governments are incrementally starting and building their own digital-focused organizations, navigating challenges such as leadership, funding, resources, internal bureaucratic skepticism and complacency and individual egos.

Because none of these organizations will emerge in a vacuum, they will all have different geneses and evolutions.

As researchers stated in a 2018 State of Digital Transformation report:

“We don’t believe there will be just one model that will work everywhere and at all times — and we fully recognize that the real value units provide isn’t checking boxes on a model, but rather delivering value to citizens.”

Vendor 2.0

Working behind the scenes supporting these efforts is an emerging ecosystem of small vendors focused specifically on public sector digital — CivicActions, Nava, AdHoc, FutureGov, Public Digital and others (disclosure: I have a financial relationship with the former) — many formed and led by early alumni of these government service teams.

Incidentally, Carrie Bishop is a co-founder of FutureGov, the pioneer of boutique digital government services firms, and is now chief digital services officer of SFDS. Also, Mike Bracken, former head of UK GDS is now a partner at Public Digital.

These new vendors, entirely comfortable and adept at working in delivery-driven and open source environments, fully embrace and advocate new procurement experiments and reform efforts.

The Digital Services Coalition, a cooperative of these companies, formed in 2018 to adopt a collaborative, co-opetition culture and model of working with one another to get and grow government business.

As stated in its mission:

“Government missions can profoundly benefit society and individuals. Government digital services transformation has the potential to expand, even multiply, these benefits and provide substantial efficiency gains. The existing contractor ecosystem is ill suited to forward the above. Nimble, forward-leaning, small firms are the ones who can make this a reality. More of the ‘right kind’ of companies and people need to serve the government space. By working together, we can accelerate this larger trend, and bring more value to the government more quickly, all while benefiting the individuals and firms that are part of the community.”

Their faces and logos are invisible to the general public, but these new private sector companies, with their aligned open and agile ethos, are critical to the success of the future of digital government service.

As innovative procurement leaders continue to adopt ways of lowering the barrier to entry and access, we will see increased market share from these companies and even more small businesses entering the government service delivery vendor pool.

Aspirational digital

Estonia’s e-Estonia movement rightfully declares itself “one of the world’s most developed digital societies.”

After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, its sovereignty and bureaucratic clean slate coincided with a new wave of web innovation and set a strong foundation for digital government leapfrogging.

As The New Yorker wrote in 2017 of Estonia’s progress:

“Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.”

While Estonia is an anomaly in its origins, one that many governments would appreciate the luxury of, it’s still the digital vision others should aspire to and be inspired by.

One aspect of Estonia to watch is whether it will continue to sustain its innovative momentum or will the clean slate eventually succumb to bureaucratic digital stagnancy over time.

The courage to think bigger

All of these efforts are having an impact, but there is a need for political and administrative government leadership to think different and bigger on digital and push for a more exponential approach that meets, and exceeds, the public’s increased expectations.

California is the latest entrant to venture seriously into government digital services. In January 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a new California Office of Digital Innovation with a startup budget of $36 million and 50 employees. When the official budget is approved this June, we’ll have a better understanding of what resources will be provided to this effort, and how big California, a state that prides itself on technology innovation, will go.

If there’s anyone who can lead with a bold, holistic vision similar to what UK (and Estonia) has done, it’s Newsom, especially given his electoral mandate, established political connections, and positioning as a digital government enabler and champion. For an innovator-branded politician like Newsom, now head of the largest state in America with the fifth largest economy in the world, California can be bold in its approach, eventually make a GDS-like investment in its digital future and show others what can truly be accomplished on this front.

There has been no better opportunity to show the rest of the world, including the U.S. federal government, how a truly effective digital strategy can positively impact the lives of many.

Outside of the UK and Estonia, these efforts are inspiring and true signs of progress, but the next wave of government service delivery evolution needs bold and innovative leadership from politicians and public sector administrators leaders unafraid to take the digital moonshot.

In “Finding the Path to Digital Services at Scale,” Ben McGuire highlights Mexico’s sentiments on this:

“One of the biggest recommendations from the digital services team in Mexico was connecting the digital services program to big, bold, public goals. It can be tempting for new digital teams to keep a low profile as they build relationships and notch small internal victories. But the strength of the organization and its sustainability in the long term will partially depend on its ability to create excitement and political wins. Make digital transformation aspirational, not just a collection of workaday best practices, and you can capture the imagination of public servants as well as citizens.”

And, as e-Estonia says on its website:

“When Estonia started building our information society about two decades ago, there was no digital data being collected about our citizens. The general population did not have the internet or even devices with which to use it. It took great courage to invest in IT solutions and take the information technology route.”

In time, we’ll see what government leaders have that same digital courage — to succeed and fail — and encourage and empathize with others internally to do the same.

‘It’s about the people’

While the various iterations of these teams have different directives, histories and personalities, there’s a camaraderie of passion, purpose and sense of immediacy for civic change that unites everyone involved with the government digital service delivery community.

Hillary Hartley emphasized this repeatedly when announcing Ontario’s digital action plan:

Our goal is to deliver a consistent, inclusive and delightful online experience across the whole of government. These are the guiding principles that drive our work, and should be the ‘North Star’ for any team driving digital change in their ministry:

People are at the centre of service and policy design, actively participating in government program development by telling us what they need and will use

People have a common way to identify who they are when they interact with us online through a single digital identity across government

People don’t have to inform multiple ministries every time they move or change information —government uses a ‘tell us once’ approach to data and information

People have an easier time completing a task with government because common transactional elements are in place for all online services (e.g., payments, notifications, etc.), and designed to be interchangeable and built with open standards

People can track the progress we’re making because open performance metrics are available online for all services (e.g., UK Government Digital Service Performance)

While the delivery is digital and technology is foundational, the mantra for this community is the end users — the people — both internal and external.

When the universal driver is an emphatic focus on the user, the distractions — politics, bureaucratic skepticism and complacency, egos — all become tertiary for leaders and practitioners truly acting in the interest of the people they serve.

As this pithy 2017 GDS presentation slide says:

Digital is not about technology. It’s about people.

Photo: UK Government Digital Service
Photo: UK Government Digital Service


Liquid democracy: Blockchains and governance in the post nation-state era

Photo: Democracy Earth Foundation
Photo: Democracy Earth Foundation

Intrigued by what Democracy Earth Foundation is doing to leverage the power of blockchain to empower a different approach to democracy, I asked the team to share more about its work.

What is Democracy Earth Foundation?

Democracy Earth Foundation is a California 501(c)(3) non profit that is building a blockchain-based, tokenized liquid democracy governance platform. We are an international team building in an open source environment.

What are the problems you’re trying to solve?

Our world is facing increasing globalization, privatization and digitalization: these forces are changing what it means to be a citizen and a human on earth. These changes have manifested primarily in the economic and political sphere, where vast inequality has created an unsustainable crisis of global proportions.

In the economic sphere, 600 million people still live on less than two dollars a day. While inequality between nations is gradually falling, it remains extraordinarily high. Inequality within countries is also rising – a condition economists like Thomas Piketty warn will not naturally correct itself. There are many reasons for this rising inequality within countries — in developed nations globalization has mainly rewarded the wealthy class while hurting the lower classes with manufacturing outsourcing. A lower share of profits is going to labor than to capital, especially in the tech sector. This precarious economic situation will only worsen with the advance of  automation.

Meanwhile, in the political sphere, democracy is in global recession. Citizen voices are either suppressed under authoritarian regimes, or depressed by lack of financial and political capital which marginalizes participants. According to Freedom House, 55% of the world’s population live in countries that are deemed “not free.” Even in democracies, citizens who feel they are not represented well lack the means to change this. Participation rates are low in elections and money seems to control every aspect from how districts are drawn, to which political demands get answered. We view this political breakdown primarily as a liquidity problem – people who most need political change do not have the resources to bring it about – as well as a legitimacy problem, because centralized and easily corruptible ledgers of political institutions do not create trust or a desire to engage among citizens.

We aim to upgrade democracy to the Internet era, formalizing humans on blockchains and enabling new forms of participation and representation that enable global citizens to address the problems that nation-states and digital monopolies have proven inadequate for the task.

How does cryptography and blockchain solve these?

Liquid democracy – in combination with blockchain technology – is at the core of the Democracy Earth governance platform. Liquid democracy is a system that allows for both direct democracy and representative democracy. Instead of having representatives based on territory who vote on all issues for their constituents, liquid democracy allows individuals to choose representatives that are experts on narrow policy issues or members of their social network. If they feel that their representative voted incorrectly or if they change their mind on the issue they can revoke that vote at any time. It creates a more flexible system that enables greater participation while still allowing for knowledgeable representation.

Liquid democracy has only recently become feasible. Any notion of delegating and revoking with paper ballots would be functionally impossible due to its sheer complexity, but the internet makes sending someone a vote, tracking how they used it, and revoking the vote if dissatisfied, very simple. Of course it is now common knowledge the internet is a highly insecure place to hold elections; there is substantial evidence that the 2016 US election was manipulated through hacked voting machines. Making elections more digital on the current internet would be foolish; centralization is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. The Democracy Earth network will be based on blockchain technology.

Blockchains allow for information to be stored in a decentralized manner that makes it functionally impossible to manipulate – in a word, incorruptible. A blockchain is a distributed ledger system. A ledger is a record or database full of data such as transactions or votes, and distributed means that this ledger is held in multiple places. This ledger is maintained by “nodes,” essentially computers running a program that is specific to that blockchain. A copy of the ledger is held on every node in the network. Anyone who downloads this program can view the ledger and know that the copy they are viewing will be constantly updated and checked against everyone else’s copy to ensure that they match perfectly. They are kept synchronized because all the nodes are connected to the internet and are able to update in real time.

These nodes use a special consensus algorithm to make sure that they all are holding a ledger with the same information and history, and to overpower this algorithm, someone would have to take control of more than half of the computing power (known as a ‘51% attack’) in order to convince the network to change this ledger or to add false information.

This is what makes blockchains so special. To change data in a centralized source, like standard websites, someone only has to gain access to one point; in contrast, with a blockchain one has to overpower hundreds or thousands of points. While centralized sites keep their data and algorithms secret, with blockchains, anyone can view any transaction at any time.  This ‘permissionless auditing’ means anyone can audit the information to make sure it is accurate, without needing access provided by intermediaries.

Though blockchains store information publicly and are easy to audit, they still preserve anonymity. Recorded in the ledger are data alongside digital public keys. Every user has a pair of digital keys: a public one, which anyone can see but cannot trace back to the user, and a private one, which they use to access their data and they know is linked to the public key. This allows them to check the ledger to see that their data were recorded correctly, but makes it so others cannot see who conducted which transactions or cast which votes.

There’s a lot of instability, volatility even, around blockchain technologies, particularly bitcoin. Is this technology stable enough to support global currencies and democracies? If not, when can we be comfortable that they can?

This is a multi-part answer.

The first to address is that our platform is running on the Ethereum blockchain. The price of Ether (Ethereum’s currency) also fluctuates but it should be noted that our VOTE tokens are a separate token from Ether, and the Ethereum blockchain is just providing the security for our platform and our platform is essentially a structure built on top of it. What is more important to focus on than the fluctuations in price, which are mainly driven by speculation not any real changes in the technology, is the security of a blockchain itself. Both Ethereum and Bitcoin are highly secure blockchains with many validating nodes and robust communities of users and developers. Even with the price fluctuating, using these ledgers to store information — such as votes as we propose to do — is completely doable.

There is a question about scaling. At the present moment, the Ethereum network would not be able to support the number of users and votes associated with a global democracy. That being said, every blockchain based project that aims to use the Ethereum blockchain faces this same issue of scaling which means that huge investments of time, money, and intellectual effort are going into fixing this problem right now. Multiple solutions for scaling have already been proposed and are in the process of being implemented.

What is Sovereign and how does it work?

Sovereign is the working name of the Democracy.Earth liquid democracy governance software. It is a platform that allows users to propose ideas, create votes, debate issues, vote directly and delegate (as well as revoke) their vote. It is censorship-resistant; voters neither give away personal information to participate, and can vote anonymously on any proposal for which they meet the requirements. Our beta release is now on the Ethereum Rinkeby testnet at testnet.democracy.earth, where you can experiment with censorship-resistant voting, debate and token delegation. The platform now has limited functionality, but you can vote with  any token – our own VOTE tokens but also any ERC20 token(s). Results of polls are transparent and verifiable by all participants, not requiring an intermediary or vulnerable to any authority hacker. In addition to this testnet sandbox the platform is being used to provide governance among crypto communities like Decentraland. One interesting current use case of the platform can be found at Blockstack, where the Democracy Earth platform is implemented as part of the governance to the innovative App Mining program, helping to allocate a subsidy of $100,000 each month among dapp builders being voted on among the community.

What is the ‘Social Smart Contract?’

The Social Smart Contract is Democracy Earth Foundation open source white paper released in 2017. The language is not accidental – according to theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke,  the social contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits – i.e. the origin government itself. The social smart contract is similarly an agreement – and protocol – for  how to implement this cooperation in the digital age. It puts the importance of blockchain technology and our governance protocols in the context of the challenges to democracy and human flourishing that we are witnessing in our world today, as well as a detailed explanation of our platform and its implementation. It is complemented by our Token Economics white paper, that was released in July 2018 at economics.democracy.earth.

You’re a big proponent of open source technologies? Why is open source important to your work and a healthy democracy?

The platform has to be open source so that the software is available to anyone for free and the code is transparently available for anyone who wants to see it, analyze it or modify it.

Open source is both an ethos and a series of procedures that are used for developing and updating code. It is an ethos because it is used by people who believe that software should be available for free, and have a truly democratic and meritocratic process of creation.

We believe this is the right way to build software, and also that it  just makes for better software, especially governance software. It is a series of procedures, because it involves making our code available on an easily accessible website, for example GitHub (now owned by Microsoft), and allowing for others to copy it and propose changes or additions to it.

How can those excited about your work get involved?

There are many ways they can help.

The first and foremost is to join us on our platform: testnet.democracy.earth – you can get your test tokens and a simple guide on what’s involved with a Web3 login to joining our  censorship-resistant platform on the Democracy Earth Medium publication, Hacktivism, at the article “testnet.democracy.earth is LIVE!” where they can create a profile, pose questions and votes, experiment on it, and invite other users to it join.

Next, if they have a particular vote or decision that they are involved with with any organization, they could use our platform to conduct it. For example, a board vote, a school election, a club election, or even a county or city election – they should reach out to the foundation at hello@democracy.earth to learn more about conducting a pilot.

Finally, they can look into becoming an ambassador meaning an individual who promotes the mission of Democracy Earth to the wider community. Or if you are at a university, consider becoming a student ambassador. Information about the program can be found at the Democracy Earth Student Ambassador repository in GitHub here.

If you are a developer, reach out to the development team at code.democracy.earth, and if you want to volunteer in any way, contributing your marketing, editing, writing, video, business or fundraising skills in some way to the foundation, simply reach out at hello@democracy.earth with your ideas, and someone will get right back to you.

You can usually interact with a team member on our social channels in Slack (chat.democracy.earth), Medium (words@democracy.earth) or on Twitter @democracyearth or Facebook.

GovFresh Q&A: New Accela CEO Gary Kovacs

Gary Kovacs (Photo: James Duncan Davidson)
Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Gary Kovacs is the new chief executive officer of Accela, a provider of cloud-based government productivity solutions.

Kovacs’ past experiences leading large enterprise technology companies include serving as CEO and managing director of the consumer and enterprise security software provider AVG Technologies; CEO of Mozilla where he led development of the Firefox web browser launch and its expansion to more than 500 million users worldwide; and senior executive leadership roles at SAP (Sybase), Adobe (Macromedia), Zi and IBM.

We asked him to share his perspective on various aspects of the government technology landscape, and where he sees Accela’s role in all this.

What do you see as the biggest technology challenge for governments?

We’re seeing governments need to quickly adapt to the rate of technological change and the shift in resident and business demand.

Technology is evolving at an exponential rate, not a linear rate, particularly as citizens interact with best-in-class technology in their lives every day, and increasingly demand the same from their government technology interactions. The ability for residents and businesses to react, praise, and critique government and elected officials is instantaneous now. Government and officials now must react quickly when their constituents are frustrated, or do not feel their interactions with agencies are simple, or meaningful enough.

These interactions and evolving technologies are accelerating the pace of necessary technological change within government. Harnessing this pace of change is challenging for even those with unlimited resources, which no one has. Implementation of technology solutions is a huge challenge.

I am focused on ensuring all of our solutions fit the demands and needs of our various customers and the communities they represent. I’m proud to be joining a team that already has unique domain expertise and a proven record of working with governments to leverage the best available technology and improve the delivery of services and thereby further community and economic development.

You previously worked with Mozilla, a free and open source project. How will your experience there impact the technology direction of Accela, and where do you see opportunities for open source contributions?

Open source technologies are an undeniable catalyst for new solutions, advanced tools, fresh thinking and transparency.

I joined Accela to help drive the next shift in government innovation, and as a company, Accela welcomes the growth of open source in government and is always looking for new opportunities to support this growth.

We’re encouraged by initiatives like California’s open source platform Code California, the federal government’s open source platforms through digital innovation groups like 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, and the work by local civic technologists at non-profits like Code for America, a group that has contributed many open source apps and tools to local governments.

These activities serve as a guiding light for how open source collaboration between government agencies and industry partners can solve real challenges facing cities and states throughout the country.

New industries are beginning to disrupt the economics of cities. What have governments done to regulate these new technologies?

Cities all across the country are navigating emerging regulatory challenges — from ride sharing registration in New York City to e-scooters in San Francisco, to cannabis regulation in towns coast to coast.

The 2018 election saw more states modify cannabis laws. With growing demand for recreational cannabis, and more cannabis businesses operating in legal markets, how are governments regulating this new industry?

Our country is increasingly going green — 10 states and Washington, D.C., already have recreational cannabis on the books. And more states are considering cannabis legalization in the nearterm. Local and state governments are scrambling to figure out how to regulate the product and collect cannabis revenue.

Earlier this year, we launched an out-of-the-box cannabis licensing product to make it easy for local and state leaders to keep up with this complicated emerging market. The cannabis solution follows Accela’s effort to help officials in Denver and California successfully launch their permitting systems ahead of schedule. Our experience in cannabis and looking at the market’s growth pushed us to develop an easy-to-use and easy-to-deploy solution for cannabis regulation and licensing.

What compelled you to join a government-focused technology company?

The focus on government and the delivery of government services has been at the forefront of our national dialogue over the past few years. I believe governments are at an inflection point with technology, and I became increasingly interested in exploring how the $400 billion government technology market could help government operate more efficiently. Governments  worldwide have an opportunity right now to step up, embrace technology, and further improve their communities.

Accela offers a unique combination of software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, a loyal and growing customer base, and tremendous growth opportunities in the United States and internationally. This is an exciting time to join the company, and I look forward to partnering with our investors, leadership team, and all of our employees to help lead Accela on its mission to provide the best possible solutions for our customers and the residents and businesses they serve.

What will you focus on in your new role?

We will continue our focus on customer success — strategically allocating financial and human resources to support our customers now and into the future, as well as ensuring continual innovation as the leading provider of cloud-based solutions for government. A happy customer is of top importance to me. While we are investing in our core — a growing global team, research and development, strategic partnerships — we are also investing in our own SaaS transformation to ensure our government customers can benefit from all SaaS has to offer, especially our speed to deployment.

What excites you the most about the government technology space?

Broadly, government technology allows our public entities to better serve residents and businesses.

Accela is selling, implementing and supporting solutions that streamline transactions between governments and their residents and businesses. In short, Accela powers governments, so they are empowered to deliver important public services more efficiently and with greater transparency. I am thrilled to join an organization that already has a strong leadership team in place. From security to cloud, and customer success to marketing, the whole team is committed this mission.

Newsom proposes new California Office of Digital Innovation for 2019-20 budget

Code California

California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a new Office of Digital Innovation as part of the state’s 2019-20 budget with initial start-up costs of $36.2 million and 50 positions. The proposal also includes an innovation academy and $20 million innovation fund.

The office will reside under the California Government Operations Agency and “have the authority to develop and enforce requirements for departments to assess their service delivery models and underlying business processes from an end-user perspective.”

From the proposal:

A primary goal of government is the efficient delivery of government services. To further this goal, California must change the way it approaches service delivery and technology investments. Millions of Californians interact with government services every day: residents apply for drivers’ licenses, students compare financial aid options, and small business owners apply for licenses or pay business taxes. Too often, outdated tools and complex systems make these interactions cumbersome and frustrating. Additionally, manual processes and the lack of digital service delivery often require individuals to take time off work and go to a physical office to interact directly with government staff.

The state must transform from a passive governance model that largely responds to individual statutory and policy mandates to one that actively establishes measurable customer service benchmarks and leading digital service delivery from a programmatic and statewide perspective.

Read the 2019-20 budget summary.

Newsom’s first-day executive order prioritizes government technology procurement reform

Photo: Governor’s Office of Emergency Services
Photo: Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

California Governor Gavin Newsom wasted no time on his first day in office addressing what many see as the most critical — albeit bureaucratic — issue impacting the state’s government technology challenges: procurement.

“Technology and innovation can be deployed to address some of the State’s most pressing challenges, but only if we modernize our procurement processes to ensure that solutions fit the problems they are designed to solve,” states Executive Order N-04-19.

Newsom’s order calls for a move away from the traditional specifications-based approach to technology procurement, instead advocating for one where the state outlines a problem area and looks to others — “state experts, vendors, entrepreneurs, and scientists from a range of industries” — to offer innovative technology solutions that “yield more comprehensive and effective results.”

As part of this initiative, Newsom is proposing a new “Request for Innovative Ideas,” or RFI2, where the state will “ask innovators to design solutions to our most complex problems, instead of the tradition RFP process, wherein the State predefines the solution and vendors bid for a narrowly defined contract.”

“This new approach to procurement capitalizes upon California’s innovation economy by asking better questions, leading to new and better outcomes for our State’s residents,” states the order.

Read Executive Order N-04-19