Passive intelligence for government

Every government wants to use data to make better decisions.

This desire and need is being supporting both from within government and by a handful of interesting companies like SmartProcure, Mark43 and GovInvest. These companies provide data and platforms that make purchasing, public safety and pension decisions much more informed.

The challenge for both companies and internal tool development is the same: changing user behaviors. Even with the very best products, changing behavior is really fucking hard. Raise your hand if you want another website or app to log into every day? Bueller? Bueller?

From a product perspective the fundamental challenge is straightforward: create enough value for consistent use. However, government presents its own set of unique challenges: Elected officials turn over, political will matters, and legacy vendors have stranglehold contracts.

That being said, there’s a giant opportunity for apps that work while government officials sleep. What that means is technology working behind the scenes to deliver practical and insightful information long before it surfaces through traditional mechanisms. How does this all happen? Passive intelligence and delivery applications. An everyday consumer example of this is the brilliant, slightly creepy, time-to-work notification from Google Maps. As I leave for work and hit the end of my driveway, I’m provided with an estimated time to get to the office.

This is a classic example of low user investment and high user value. The app does the hard work and only notifies you at the exact moment you should care. Consuming the information makes you a maps user, without forcing you to open maps. Wouldn’t you love for your city council member or Mayor to get similar notifications about city operations?

I can think of hundreds of use cases across all of government. From public safety, to infrastructure, to changing demographics. In a world where consumers demand passive intelligence, why aren’t we building for elected officials as if they are also consumers of useful, intelligent data?

It’s entirely possible that there are apps out there that already do what I described. If there are, I would love to learn more. It strikes me as one of the most opportune places for govtech founders to be spending their time.

Funding government technology

Govtech Fund Managing Partner Ron Bouganim (Photo: Code for America)

Govtech Fund Managing Partner Ron Bouganim (Photo: Code for America)

I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.

Govtech Fund aims to “harness the power of transformers, technology, and capital to help government become more efficient, responsive, and better able to serve society.” Bouganim has raised $23 million to make this happen, and the fund has made five investments to date, including SmartProcure, Mark43, SeamlessDocs, AmigoCloud and mySidewalk (formerly MindMixer), with a sixth soon to be announced.

Bouganim differentiates between govtech and civictech, the former focusing on internal agency technology infrastructure, or the “government operating system,” such as procurement, permitting, GIS and fraud detection, and the latter being citizen-focused services.

What strikes me about Bouganim, besides the fact that he’s helping to build a Mandarin immersion school in San Francisco, is his complete focus to the government technology sector, from educating other venture capitalists on the space to managing deal flow and putting his money where his mouth is.

“This is the last job I’ll ever do,” Bouganim told me.

To learn more about Bouganim’s perspective on funding government technology, read Next City’s profile from earlier this year and watch his 2015 Code for America Summit talk: