Pre-Seed Startup Begins Collecting Pilot Cities, Hopes to Build Seamless Citizen Services

Simple Connect is just getting its feet on the ground, but its ambitions are large.

by / March 8, 2017

A pre-seed startup, founded by an IT industry veteran, is strategizing to rapidly set up a library of digital services that can easily translate from government website to government website — and it's beginning to set up pilot projects in municipalities across the country.

The company, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is called Simple Connect. Its goal is to put a new spin on one of the older corners of government technology: state and local digital service delivery.

It’s all about making things seamless for the user, according to founder Dilraj Kahai.

“If the government wants trust, it should start with the lowest-hanging fruit, which is the digital experience,” he said.

To build up its capabilities, Kahai said he’s in the process of signing up five early-adopter cities and government agencies that are diverse in size. He’s beginning to hold meetings with candidates, and said feedback from potential users so far has been enthusiastic.

Kahai’s background, which spans two decades in IT, has involved a lot of system implementation and integration for government clients. A co-founder of the firm 21Tech, Kahai has worked to set up systems from companies like Infor and Accela for local governments, and found that back-office programs rarely translate to easy-to-use citizen services. A business portal, for example, might help direct an entrepreneur to what offices he or she needs to contact at a city, but it will rarely allow that entrepreneur to apply to all those offices in one place.

Looking out across the gov tech ecosystem today, Kahai said he sees a lot of companies providing individual solutions to problems without necessarily taking care of the citizen from start to finish. By setting up floating systems on top of commonly-used, market-cornering software already in place, Kahai is betting he can make processes like permit and license applications, fee payment, and bill processing much smoother. So smooth, in fact, that people unversed in technology can use them easily.

“About 70 percent [of implemented gov tech systems] are the big ones, and then the rest is all these little small proprietary systems,” he said. “So what we’ll do is go for the 70 percent, and then for the proprietary ones we’ll say, ‘No problem, we’ll do that one at cost because that gets us one step closer to the dashboard.’”

The dashboard he’s referring to is a down-the-line vision for a single place where a local or state government can bring together the solutions that Simple Connect has already set up — a comprehensive constituent service portal, as it were.

The idea is that once Simple Connect has built a solution for one city, it should translate easily to other cities using the same systems. When it encounters a city using a different system, the company can build the same solution on top of that architecture and sell it to all the cities using that system. Eventually it should have a library of services readily available.

That would, in theory, drive down the cost of the product, ease the amount of work it takes to set systems up and enable data collection where it didn’t exist before in government service schemes. And hopefully, he said, that will also cut down on pushback from government employees and agencies who simply don’t want to change the way they do things.

“Our bet is once they see the ease of this," he said, "they won’t be fighting this and saying they don’t want to do it."

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.