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Expectation versus Reality of Five Years in Gov Tech

We asked five leaders in the gov tech market what they expected to happen in the past five years that did — or did not — come to pass. Their answers offer insight into what ground was gained and where there’s room to grow.

Digital symbols for Wi-Fi, laptops and cellphones connected by white lines overlayed over a skyline of a big city.
The crux of gov tech is evolution — everybody wants government to improve. But change, if it will last, must come from all directions. Here are five leaders in gov tech on what they feel has — and hasn’t — changed in the past five years, and how that compares to what they expected.

Gabriela Dow

Owner, Mora Dow Consulting; partner, Plug and Play San Diego, a startup accelerator 

Q: In the past five years, what did  you expect to happen in gov tech that has happened?

Since launching my own startups in 2000 on, I expected the barrier to entry to continue to decrease and I have certainly seen this trend escalate over the past five years. Anybody, in any place on the planet, can be approached, engaged and sold to from anybody else — or perhaps a robot/machine learning script — from any other place on the planet. There are many positive developments with this ease of access, such as an increased quality of life for so many people that can become entrepreneurs. But there are also pitfalls in terms of security. 

Q: What did you expect to happen that hasn't?

I expected security to tighten and improve with more precise tracking and auditing available due to increased technology improvements and deeper, interconnected layers of data that could help corporations detect abuses and law enforcement detect and prevent threats that could lead to physical harm. It is troubling to see that security systems have lagged behind global criminal enterprises, and with the rise of deepfakes and wider spread of misinformation, it is deeply concerning to know that society may not have the tools to slow or stop this type of criminal activity. 

Luke Fretwell

CEO, ProudCity; founder, GovFresh 

Q: In the past five years, what did you expect to happen in gov tech that has happened?

Definitely the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity given the steady venture and financial interest we’ve seen around ProudCity. The GovTech 100 list has played a critical role in the finance and investment industry’s heightened interest in gov tech, and that was immediately obvious when we were included. I imagine the gov tech M&A activity has surpassed most industry insider expectations, but early on, it was obvious this was inevitable. 

Q: What did you expect to happen that hasn’t?

I thought surely there would be an acceleration of technology, purchasing and delivery innovation, particularly at the local government level. Unfortunately, we still see the traditional vendors offering the same solutions with opaque pricing and much of government still following dated procurement processes. There’s a dire need for more awareness around modern technology best practices and why governments must move away from legacy thinking if we’re truly going to serve the communities of the future. If we don’t, my fear is that we’ll see an increase in dissatisfaction in government, but also a general ambivalence toward civic institutions, whether you want to work for or engage with them. Now, more than ever, we need an ecosystem that fosters civic innovation rather than stifling it.

Cyd Harrell

Service design lead (consulting), Judicial Council of California; former chief of staff at 18F and product director at Code for America 

Q: In the past five years, what did you expect to happen in gov tech that has happened?

I very much expected and hoped that by 2019, user-centered design would be considered a critical discipline in government/civic tech. While there’s still more work to do, this has largely come to pass. Both 18F and [the U.S. Digital Service] included design as a core capability from their founding, and as state and city innovation groups have launched, nearly all of them include designers at multiple levels. Achievements like the open source U.S. Web Design System also make great, accessible digital design more available to governments at all levels. 

Q: What did you expect to happen that hasn’t?

I believed that the type of modern tech and design practices that have brought so much to public-facing government services (mostly on the Web) would have worked their way deeper into the stack. That by now, industry practitioners would have gained the trust of government partners to be invited to work on major database and back-end systems, as well as the Web, but that work is much less advanced. With the bigger systems (which could play a much larger role in saving taxpayer money on gov tech) there’s lip service to agile in many places, but far less user-centered design and product management practice. There’s still much to prove and much to be gained, and I’m optimistic for where we’ll be in 2024. 

Lauren Lockwood

Founder and principal, Bloom Government Digital Services; former chief digital officer of Boston 

Q: In the past five years, what did you expect to happen in gov tech that has happened?

The number of talented, impact-driven people who have joined government ranks as procurement officers, engineers, etc., has far exceeded what I expected. I think this is due in large part to pioneers in the space evangelizing and building a brand for working in government (e.g., New Urban Mechanics, USDS, Code for America, Harvard Kennedy School and so many others). 

Q: What did you expect to happen that hasn’t?

When I joined government five years ago, it felt like the Wild West in terms of experiments and various groups developing best practices. I thought we’d arrive sooner at a more formal structure for capturing and disseminating what works. But in the last few years, I’ve also seen how complex systems, processes and culture are. What we do seem to be seeing — which is very cool — is this happening in pockets around subject areas (e.g., integrated benefits) or layers of the service stack (e.g., technology, procurement, policy). 

Steve Ressler

President, Callyo; former president (and founder), GovLoop; former CMO, GovDelivery and Granicus  

Q: In the past five years, what did you expect to happen in gov tech that has happened?

Five years ago, it was clear that the future of technology delivery was cloud-first and now we are delivering on that promise. Legacy vendors have been moving their applications to the cloud and new cloud-first vendors are being adopted. Second, the mobile-first trend was clear five years ago and has happened, whether it’s new versions of legacy applications, new  solutions for government workflows, new government-focused mobile devices or enabling a modern workforce. Third, I expected investors to increase interest in the gov tech SaaS market, and there has been significant movement there, especially from growth equity. 

Q: What did you expect to happen that hasn’t?

I expected state and local governments to develop new R&D and investment models like DARPA and In-Q-Tel. While there have been launches of unique programs working on the problem like City Innovate, they are still limited in actual dollars allocated from governments directly to startups. I expected government to launch large-scale training initiatives to retrain employees on the newer technologies to improve service. However, training budgets still remain the first to be cut, and training is still primarily focused on legacy topics.