Voices in Gov Tech: Gov Tech's Next Chapter (Opinion)

Startups have an important role to play in transforming government using technology.

by Lisa Abeyta / January/February 2018

Editor's note: This story is part of Voices in Gov Tech, featuring the unique perspectives of leaders in the market. Read the full series here.

When we launched APPCityLife in 2009, the terms “gov tech,” “civic tech” and “smart cities” were yet to be in wide use, and the idea that governments would sign up in droves to freely share their internal data with the public? That was next to inconceivable.

Today it is hard to imagine that it has actually been around a decade since the launch of smartphones and open data initiatives, as well as the genesis of what we now call the gov tech industry. Along with those early technologies of mobile apps and open data, today cities are embracing machine learning, artificial intelligence and other new technologies to continue the transformation of the way we all interact with government agencies and our community.

Our own team was incredibly fortunate to forge strong partnerships with early industry leaders like Accela (we’re now training their Australia team to develop apps on our platform) as well as our own local government in Albuquerque, N.M. These early relationships helped us understand the pain points and goals from a government perspective as well as those of our fellow gov tech partners.

In those early days of working together, there were no road maps for cities or for startups on how to develop, deploy or maintain new technologies that often had to integrate with legacy systems and unique workflows. And while we still need to figure it out together with our government clients as we try things that have never been done before, today’s companies — even the newest startups — are expected to immediately address security, data ownership, privacy and accessibility requirements that weren’t initially part of the equation.

While more decision-makers within government agencies are better versed in these issues today — and online information and training makes it possible for anyone to learn — expertise on these issues is often delivered by startups. We are often called upon to guide our clients through industry best practices as well as very complex requirements. It makes it more important than ever that the companies serving governments do so with the highest levels of integrity and care toward the protection of the privacy and security of both the agencies they serve and the communities who will interact with their products.

Today’s gov tech projects run the gamut of the one-off app created by a local group to address one specific issue to multi-faceted concepts for building smart cities from the ground up, requiring collaboration between multiple agencies as well as private companies. But all of these initiatives, from the small pilot project to the grandest of visions, can benefit greatly when there is access to industry expertise and platforms built to support the complex integrations of myriad types of data and input coming from multiple sources. It’s more important than ever that the accessibility, security and intelligence of gov tech projects be baked into the road map.

On a personal level, one of the most exciting developments within the industry is the potential for these new technologies to make our cities friendlier and more accessible to those who are often left out of the early adoption curve. When chatbots can remove visual and mobility barriers and artificial intelligence natural language processing can remove literacy and language barriers, we can make gov tech a vehicle for more inclusive governments and communities — something that we shouldn’t lose sight of in all of our excitement to build an even smarter city.

Lisa Abeyta is founder and CEO of APPCityLife and co-founder of Hautepreneurs.