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Granicus Buys Public Records Technology Firm GovQA

The latest acquisition in government technology could help agencies better fulfill records requests from citizens and others. Those requests have increased significantly during the pandemic.

The latest deal in the government technology space is bringing technology for fulfilling records requests under a broader banner of communications tools.

Granicus, whose software helps governments better reach those citizens, is buying GovQA, whose technology focuses on public records and compliance workflows.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Granicus said the acquisition will end up boosting the strength of its Civic Engagement Platform tool, and further enable its clients in government to offer consistent and unified digital, automated services to communities.

“The public record request management sector has been blowing up recently,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Clerks, public records offices and city councils are struggling with this. It’s a real pressing challenge for our customers.”

The stakes are high, he said, as records requests represent an area where failure to produce results in a timely and efficient manner can spark bad feelings among citizens.

“There has been an overall deterioration of trust between residents and governments over the past year,” he said.

According to Granicus, some agencies' public records requests have increased as much as 500 percent thanks to citizen interest in pandemic responses, political and social tensions and an ongoing decline in public trust.

Research from GovQA, in fact, shows that government agencies are spending significantly more time on public records requests — more than 1,600 hours each quarter on average, according to quarterly data — with that work involving not only traditional paper and digital files such as officials’ email communications but dashcam and bodycam footage as well.

“Governments today are inundated with information requests. As volume continues to skyrocket, and requests become increasingly complex, traditional public records processes are no longer able to satisfy these demands,” said Tim Callahan, CEO of GovQA, in a statement. “The stakes for governments are way too high to do this poorly or below standards. And now, as part of Granicus, public records request management can more seamlessly be integrated into a government’s overall digital approach to community transparency, engagement, communications and workflow management.”

GovQA, based near Chicago, said it has completed millions of public information requests for some 800 government clients since 2000. It touts its ability to automate and customize workflows, redact certain information under public record laws and charge legally appropriate fees for requests.

According to Hynes, the GovQA records requests technology is particularly attractive because of its ability to simplify the records request process.

“It can dramatically reduce the timeline and complexity of those requests,” he said. For example, the tool uses machine learning to determine duplications in records requests, which in turn can save hours or even days in fulfilling those requests.

Granicus, which has offices in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., said it has more than 5,500 government clients. They use cloud-based services related to public participation, agenda and records management and digital communications.

Hynes said the GovQA technology will be incorporated into the broader Granicus platform, which will lead to further improvements for the tool. For instance, he said, the company wants to add a feature to the tool that enables the people making record requests to receive updates about the progress of those requests.

The deal is just the latest acquisition for Granicus.

Earlier this year, it said it was buying a pair of Australian startups — OpenCities, which focuses on facilitating digital communication, including service requests, between citizens and local governments, and the community engagement platform Bang the Table. This new deal could further help Granicus with is global growth push.

“There are well over 100 countries that have regulations that govern compliance rules for public records,” Hynes said.

Both of those recent deals highlight how Granicus is not only trying to expand its service — the company started out as basically a cloud tool for government meetings — but gain more geographic footholds.

Meanwhile, this new Granicus acquisition stands as part of an ongoing wave of M&A activity in the government technology sector — a trend not only being driven by the pandemic but the general move to cloud- and subscription-based services for local and state public agencies, including tools related to citizen engagement. More than 20 such deals have now taken place in 2021.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.