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Granicus Buys Two Startups, OpenCities and Bang the Table

The move will give Granicus a variety of tools for collecting public sentiment — polling and surveys, website analytics, etc. — as well as tools to understand that data and personalize user experiences.

The skyline of Melbourne, Australia, with balloons in the air.
In a bid to put more data and public input into the hands of government, Granicus is buying two companies at once: The Australian startups OpenCities and Bang the Table.

The nigh-simultaneous merger — the acquisition of Bang the Table is complete, while Granicus is still processing its buyout of OpenCities — is part of a string of acquisitions that have dramatically changed Granicus since 2016, when it took on private equity backing from Vista Equity Partners. Back then, Granicus was mostly a cloud tool for hosting government meetings.

Today, the company could perhaps best be described as a government communications suite; its software includes website management, digital outreach tools, online services and forms, meeting livestreaming and more.

The two new acquisitions are meant to change the platform in two significant ways: Adding more capabilities for government to directly collect feedback from residents, and offering more data tools to understand and use that input.

“What if we could embed these structured capabilities, the survey capabilities, polling capabilities of collecting community voices, and amplify it?” said Mark Hynes, CEO of Granicus. “So, govDelivery and the civic engagement platform delivers over 10 billion digital touch points every year. We send out billions of emails, SMS text messages, web page views … these are all now opportunity points for collection of community input in a structured way.”

Government could use those capabilities in a variety of ways, but the CEOs of the three companies are particularly excited about the prospect of a unified citizen interface — a “digital front door” where a person goes regardless of what they need. And key to that concept, at least in the Granicus approach, will be a kind of user personalization that is far more common in the private sector than in government.

That’s what OpenCities is bringing to the deal: data tools that could be used to get users where they need to go faster.

It’s also an area of data usage that has become increasingly contentious in recent years as more information has surfaced about how companies such as Facebook and Google collect and use people’s data.

But Hynes said the company is approaching the prospect with privacy in mind. The kinds of information it collects — what a person clicked on on a city’s website, whether they opened an email, etc. — will usually be anonymized and aggregated before the government sees it. The only personal information it will collect will come after the user opts to share it. And they will also give users the ability to see what information they’re sharing and make changes.

That will be tied in with abilities of residents to directly share their opinions with the government.

“I can choose to remove that information, I can choose to let them know that my viewpoints changed — because we should, after all, be able to change our minds over time — I should be able to notify them of my sentiment, I should be able to ask for attention,” said Matthew Crozier, CEO of Bang the Table. “All of these things form a vision where the customer or the community member is empowered in their data. And I think that’s very different to a world where people are worried that they’re being followed around by ghost ads, and their information is being sold to the highest bidder.”

Much of what OpenCities and Bang the Table are bringing to Granicus, such as website content management and citizen engagement, are either already in the Granicus portfolio or similar to it. But Hynes said there will be no retirement of any of the software involved. Rather, he suggested that different products will fit different customers — and eventually, they might become one product.

“If you want a really strong and powerful website and add these capabilities in over time, govAccess is a great starting point in the digital maturity model. If you’re further advanced in the digital maturity model, you might choose something like the OpenCities platform,” he said. “So the use cases are slightly different, the profile of the customer is slightly different. Ultimately, we’re going to be integrating these capabilities over time so that no matter where you are on this maturity curve, we’re going to have some combinations that don’t either feel like Vision or don’t feel like OpenCities, because they’ll be very much the same thing.”

Aside from changing the way Granicus operates, the deal will also expand where the company operates — that is, to most of the English-speaking world. While Granicus has a large footprint in the U.S. and United Kingdom, Bang the Table and OpenCities will give it a presence in Australia and New Zealand as well as boost its Canadian operations. That would make Granicus one of the most global gov tech companies based in the U.S.

Hynes said he hopes this will become a strength, since part of the data tools it wants to offer customers is the ability to learn from other jurisdictions.

“If I’m the city manager in Detroit, I can see what’s happening in neighboring communities, I can see what’s happening across the world, and I can understand what is influencing my community, and I can take action on that data to do things differently about the services I deliver [and] the messages I communicate,” he said.

From a business standpoint, that means Granicus will have many cross-selling opportunities to the existing customers of all three companies involved in the deal. And there are enough pieces of the platform now that Hynes hopes agencies will turn to the company again and again as it looks to adopt more solutions over a span of years.

“COVID only accelerated the need for starting to think about … how do we stand up better, smarter digital services? How do we equip our teams with better tools to be able to do that more efficiently? You know, not everyone’s gone on this journey. But I think everyone’s either thinking about it or starting on that now,” said Alex Gelbak, CEO of OpenCities. “And the more they can do all of that from one platform, the smarter it will be, the easier it will be.”
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business 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.