Government and Tech To Change the World (Or New York)

By Chris Coffey  |  August 26, 2015

In 2011 and then again in 2012, I co-authored New York’s City first-ever Digital Roadmap, with then Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot. During that time, we had the pleasure of meeting with dozens of City agencies to hear their technology needs. We also met with leading tech companies all over the City to hear their governmental needs. All of these meetings were instructive for how many similarities there were. The government agencies expressed interest in working with tech companies to better use data, build improved websites and create apps that delivered vital City services. The City agencies wanted more broadband and more of an open dialog with business leaders. The tech companies largely expressed the same wishes. Overall, they wanted to know: could they work with government, could they get access to City data and use that data to make their product better, and could they better take advantage of governmental procurement systems, which were not designed for start-ups. Yet for all of the similarities, the City government and technology teams were miles apart. As anyone who works in either government or technology knows, there is a specific language for both of them and most of the time, it’s hard to speak the other language.

NY Roadmap

In 2013, AT&T rolled out a massive solar-powered mobile charging station program. It was the manifestation of a Mayor who desperately wanted more options for Sandy-effected residents and a technology company that greatly wanted to offer more services to New Yorkers (many of whom are their customers). Speaking the language of both of these massive organizations vastly helped us achieve the results that led to 50 mobile charging stations in 25 locations across the City. Today, almost 3 years later, the program is only getting bigger and better.

In 2014, the City expressed in so many ways a desire to get companies to pay for better training opportunities for women and minority students. Standard Chartered Bank wanted a plan to focus on recruitment for future employees, especially women at City College. So later that year, we helped them open the first ever incubator at City College for women and minority students with grant money from Standard Chartered going towards programming and grants for the students. It was, and is today, a homerun.

Incubator 1

There is so much opportunity out there at the cross-section of technology and government. The key is listening to both sides and speaking both languages. Government will continue to demystify as more and more data is available and as technology evolves even more. But we do not have to wait until then to do big, bold things that are good for business, good for the government and good for the millions of people in the middle.