On The Founding And Mission of OpenGov

June 4, 2014
By Joe Lonsdale

This post originally appeared on OpenGov.com

Some people are disappointed with Silicon Valley: “Why don’t we have flying cars?” they ask. Or: “Why haven’t we eradicated poverty?”

Technology is not reaching its full potential, but we think that world-changing applications are closer (and different) than people realize. Information technology has advanced dramatically over the last few decades, and it is starting to revolutionize nearly every industry. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and their teams are focusing their talents on new areas, because nearly every industry can operate much differently and better than it currently does. The realization of this potential in the coming years will lead to a shift in global prosperity.

In 2011, we started OpenGov after discovering the current state of government technology. The systems in use in nearly 100,000 governments in the U.S. have not seen much change in 20 to 30 years. Few executives or operators could use the systems well, as they belonged to back office workers and IT consultants accustomed to managing accounting and other business practices. This state of affairs contributed to opaque business practices like those that occurred in local California disasters like Bell CA and Stockton CA, and bigger problems like those in Detroit MI. Government executives and other officials want better technology to do their jobs well, gain context, and leverage masses of data.

Modern information technology is changing and with it will change the fundamental processes at these organizations. Changes like this come about through hard work and collaboration between top officials with domain expertise in finance, management, and budgeting, and top engineers and designers who can create new capabilities and refashion old processes to work faster and smarter.

Suddenly, citizens and government decisions makers can more clearly understand where they are spending money, and what are the trade-offs. They can see where different departments compare and differ to peers, and know what is outperforming and where they might spend more effort. They can see where to push back on aggressive vendors, or where new companies might play a larger role in achieving their goals. As the team innovates and further applies modern technology to the “last mile” of transparency and decision-making, new applications and achievements will unfold.

Good government is one of the most important factors in economic growth and social well-being. In the U.S. alone, the types of government organizations that OpenGov works with spend over 7 Trillion dollars per year. The decisions these organizations make influence the very fabric of our society.

Government officials and citizens care about many causes – and they all require resources. For example, I am personally passionate about ending the human trafficking that still occurs within our borders. Zac Bookman, OpenGov CEO, has an interest in criminal justice, including solutions to improve outcomes and decrease costs in the criminal justice system. Helping to allocate billions in financing for these and other causes like education, infrastructure, and safety will impact and improve communities and millions of lives.

We’ll get to flying cars someday (or drones that can carry a person). But we’re optimistic about what our society can do now with the latest IT advancements. And we are proud to be innovating and working to improve government administration to make our modern democracy function better in the meantime.

Real-world innovation is hard – it requires months of painstaking and creative iteration with engineers, city officials, and other experts to create systems that provide meaningful insights, highlight relevant contextual information and trade-offs, and flag real issues. Working with complicated data and developing formats and interfaces that make it easy for stakeholders to access requires special skills. The potential good that can come from helping to efficiently allocate tens of billions of dollars a year may have an even bigger impact than flying cars.