Andrew Hoppin

An investment in the future of government technology

Full disclosure: I have a financial arrangement with the companies discussed in this post.

For the past 15 years, I’ve spent much of my professional life working with and in startups. It’s an environment I love. You have complete control over your destiny, and you win by blending the perfect amalgam of people, design, technology, strategy and execution all into one mission.

And, you hustle. You hustle hard, because you’re driven by a common mission and have the unified audacity to try and make it work.

Many, many times — more often than not — it doesn’t work. Startups are like restaurants. They fail frequently and not in the “fail forward” sense of the phrase. But, when they succeed and move to the next level — rapid customer or revenue growth, acquisition or initial public offering — the sense of entrepreneurial accomplishment and camaraderie is special.

With the announcement of GovDelivery’s acquisition of NuCivic, it feels much like that. I’ve been lucky enough to be privy to the inside operations and success of three government technology-focused startups, and this has been the most rewarding — the leadership, team, mission and the outcome.

For me personally, it’s been an honor to have worked closely with NuCivic CEO and co-founder Andrew Hoppin, and the entire NuCivic team.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few hours talking one-on-one with GovDelivery CEO Scott Burns about the possibility of an acquisition, what it would mean for NuCivic and learn more about his business philosophy and him as a leader and person. After I left our meeting, it was clear this was the right move for both Scott and Andrew (and Andrew’s co-founder Sheldon Rampton), and the GovDelivery and NuCivic teams.

The GovDelivery-NuCivic acquisition represents a growing trend towards open source options in government that will soon be the norm. It’s a strong sign that civic technology sustainability is within the community’s reach. We see it in this instance, we see other companies in the industry following suit, and we’ll see it more and more, especially as innovators inside government continue to drive demand to open solutions that are best for the taxpayer and the citizen.

As Scott wrote, “We are glad to have them on board and know that they share our passion for serving government clients and the public.”

That passion, to build software that fully empowers government, is the glue that will continue to drive the NuCivic team.

There’s still a ton of heavy-lifting to make NuCivic the success envisioned, but this new phase is an inspiration for those of you who believe that the future of government technology, and delivery, is open.

For more on the acquisition and the future of NuCivic, see Andrew’s post here, Scott’s here, and the official press release here.

Government sharing is government caring

Just discovered this MESH Government to the Rescue TEDxGotham talk by former New York State Senate Chief Information Officer Andrew Hoppin. Hoppin’s presentation is based on Lisa Gansky’s book The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing and discusses how government can leverage shared resources, from capital assets to code, and be more efficient and resourceful.

(Thanks Mike Gifford.)

OpenGov APIs: Interfacing with Open Government

There has been lots of good talk (and a good deal of action) lately around open government APIs (Application Programming Interface) at events like Transparency Camp, Where 2.0 and on the Twitters.

So, as a prelude to a talk I’ll be giving at eComm next month, I wanted to write a post surveying the landscape of recent government API developments, and also to describe evolving efforts to construct standards for government APIs.

A Rundown of Recent State and Local API Developments

At Transparency Camp in DC last weekend, Socrata – a firm that hosts open data sets for governments – open sourced their API for accessing and querying public data. The Socrata Open Data API (or SODA) is a specification for running queries against public data sets. Currently, Socrata hosts data sets for the City of Seattle and others – code samples for working with the SODA spec can be found on Github.

The Open311 API recently implemented by the City of San Francisco (and being implemented by others) got some well deserved attention at the recent Where 2.0 conference. Other cities are starting to take note, and some (like Edmonton and Boston) look set to be next in line.

One of the early adopters of government APIs – the NY Senate – recently announced a new release for their OpenLeg API, which includes some important new changes. Today the NY Senate remains one of the few (if not the only) state legislative body to adopt an API to open up access to legislative information and proceedings, but other will hopeful soon follow. (Certainly the work done in Albany by NY Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin and his team has opened the door for work on other government APIs.)

That’s a lot of good stuff in just the last few weeks – I’ve probably missed some stuff, but I’m sure there is more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Towards API Standards

The work being done on the Open311 API, the OpenMuni Project, and certainly the move by Socrata to open source the SODA spec will have significant implications for the open government data movement.

Standards for open data and APIs will make it easier for developers to build things – an app that works for one municipality can work for others if both adhere to a common standard that the app can run against. But they’ll also make it easier for governments to open up their data – standards will offer governments assurance that the time and effort they expend to maintain and publish data or stand up APIs will provide the most return on investment.

The move towards open data and government API standards is an important one that may influence the long-term success of the open government movement.

What’s Next?

As these standards develop, and as more and more municipalitiesstart to embrace open data, we’ll move closer to the idea of government as a platform.

More and more open data will be published by governments in this country and others. These newly opened data sets may be hosted on infrastructure maintained by governments, or by third parties like Socrata. Enterprising governments in different regions or states may decide to team up and jointly host data that is of interest or value to constituents served by multiple governments or jurisdictions.

The applications that allow citizens to communicate with governments and consume public services will increasingly be built outside of government. (By outside, I mean outside the control of government and the government procurement framework.) Governments will increasingly become the collectors and maintainers of data and information and will focus less on building applications that use such data (or contracting for such applications to be built).

The applications built to consume public data and communicate with government will increasingly be designed as multitenant applications, able to service constituents in multiple jurisdictions that adhere to common data or API standards. They will also be built using more open source components and Web 2.0 technologies.

And (hopefully) the ranks of civic coders will continue to swell, as technologists looking to “scratch their own itch” are empowered to make a difference far beyond their own wants or needs.

All hail the transformative power of standards!