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.

Sofman joins SmartProcure as government sector EVP

Former Code for America Chief Program Officer Bob Sofman has joined procurement startup SmartProcure as government sector executive vice president.

SmartProcure offers participating governments a database of acquisition information to compare products and services purchased from other government agencies across the United States. Vendors can use the service to analyze competitor pricing and government purchasing trends.

“Governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year purchasing goods and services using a cumbersome and often inefficient procurement process,” Sofman said in a prepared statement announcing his new role. “Government agencies often purchase similar products and it’s not uncommon for the same product to vary dramatically in price. Knowing who these vendors are and the prices they charge ensures governments are making the best decisions with taxpayer dollars.”

Sofman was Code for America interim executive director while founder and executive director Jen Pahlka served a year as U.S. deputy chief technology officer.

SmartProcure, founded in 2011, was named a GovFresh 2013 civic startup of the year.

Startup.civ: SmartProcure

‘Startup.civ’ is a regular GovFresh feature highlighting the startups powering the civic movement.




Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

SmartProcure is a government purchasing database that helps agencies improve purchasing decisions and vendors win more government business.

What problem does SmartProcure solve for government?

There are more than 89,000 government agencies across the United State, and virtually all of them have no access to the data they need for making the best purchasing decisions. The vast majority of them have their own individualized systems to store purchasing data and are, due to data silos, disconnected from other government agencies. The end result of these data silos is that a majority of government purchases are made at a higher price than the best available rate.

The yearly amount spent by 89,000+ U.S. governmental agencies is as high as $7 trillion. Combined, U.S. government municipalities represent the largest purchaser in the world. But despite this large amount spent on procurement, the information shared among agencies is minimal. Without transparent data and an information platform to connect government agencies, these purchasing data silos will endure, along with a significant waste of time, money, and resources for every purchase. Government purchasing agents lack the national data to find the best value and must go with the best known options.

Furthermore, contractors who sell to the government lack the same data as the government. There is no national database that can tell them which government agencies have bought what they sell; they must rely on RFP and bid services to find out about opportunities. However, more than 80% of all government purchasing happens without a bid or RFP.

SmartProcure solves this disconnect with a database of government purchasing history. Now, empowered by a searchable database of purchasing information from across the nation, government agencies are able to consistently get the best value. They can use the information to instantly see all data for every purchase of any product, identify who sells that product, and find the best pricing. Government contractors can use SmartProcure’s database to locate all government agencies that buy what they sell, as well as the ability to see what their competitors are doing.

What’s the story behind starting SmartProcure?

SmartProcure was founded by Jeff Rubenstein. Jeff has been active in government procurement and public safety for more than 20 years. Two years ago, he had an epiphany when he noticed that two agencies in the same city bought the same item at vastly different prices. He knew that this problem could be solved with a proper database, but no such database existed. In 2011, SmartProcure was launched, and since then thousands of government agencies and contractors have joined us.

What are its key features?

SmartProcure’s data system is built upon a growing dataset of more than 64 million purchase orders at the local, state and federal level; this number is at the time of writing and grows each month. Each purchase order is fully indexed, including vendor data, agency contacts, line item descriptions, quantities and pricing.

Users can search by product, service, line item description, quantities, vendor, agency, location and dozens of other purchase order variables. An agency can search for the lowest priced vendors, locate contract piggy-backing opportunities and connect with other agencies that have particular experience with a product, service, or vendor. Contractors can search for every government agency that buys their specific products & services, as well as look into the sales activity (and pricing strategies) of competitors.

In short, you can think of SmartProcure as the Google of government purchasing data.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

SmartProcure is free to any government agency that shares their purchasing data. Government contractors pay an annual subscription for access to the data.

How can those interested connect with you?


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