Sharing Economy, Marijuana Top Local Government Tech Concerns in Accela Survey

The election, as well as overall technology trends, promise plenty of challenges in the new year.

by / October 18, 2016

The sharing economy and marijuana are top-of-the-list tech concerns for local government headed into 2017 — among Accela customers, anyway.

The California tech company, which offers services ranging from permit processing to asset management tools, is seeing that appetite among its customer base. At the company’s annual conference, Engage, held in August, it surveyed about 300 government workers about the issues they see coming their way in 2017, as well as their technology needs.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • When asked what emerging regulatory issues they expect to face in 2017, the plurality of respondents — 30 percent — pointed to the sharing economy.
  • The next most prominent answer was marijuana legalization, at 21 percent.
  • When asked what kind of tool they would use to better engage citizens, the single most common answer was “a new mobile app,” at 36 percent.

The data is either entirely or almost entirely made up of Accela customers, according to company Government Relations Director Tim Woodbury. That means it is largely made up of people who either work in regulatory roles or with regulatory agencies.

“That’s why we ask about some regulatory hot button issues — it probably is the largest assembly of local and state government regulatory people and IT support people in the country,” Woodbury said.

It also skewed heavily toward the West Coast, with about 45 percent of survey takers coming from California. That might help explain the concern about marijuana regulation — on top of a ballot proposition to legalize recreational marijuana that is polling at around 60 percent approval ahead of the election, California’s local jurisdictions are facing a legislative mandate to develop new regulations for medical use of the drug.

Of course, California isn’t the only state facing legalized — and therefore regulated — marijuana in the near future. According to The Cannabist, a marijuana-focused project from the Denver Post, eight more states — Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota — all have either recreational- or medical-use initiatives on the ballot this November.

A lot of IT staff and regulators in those states are already considering what they’ll need in order to handle those new responsibilities, Woodbury said.

The other prominent issue in Accela’s survey, the sharing economy, is an evolving array of problems. Regulators around the country are dealing with a shifting landscape of regulatory approaches to ridesharing services like Uber, which lets non-professional drivers ferry around passengers in their spare time, as well as Airbnb, which gives property owners the ability to rent out spaces to visitors for short time periods.

But Woodbury said there’s an opportunity to serve government clients using the same platform for multiple “gig economy” companies.

“A lot of these emerging regulatory issues, the cool thing is it’s a lot of the same technology needed at the basic level,” he said.

That’s because many of the government’s needs will be the same for different companies. A form might change here or there, but a platform that can handle permitting is a platform that can handle permitting.

And at the local level, Woodbury said he sees concern about being able to handle the new regulations.

“They have to figure out how to do it with the same personnel that they have today, without adding people to their department,” he said.

View the raw data for Accela's survey.

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.