Connect15 and Technology

Today was the third annual connect15 conference, sponsored by San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum and California Assemblymember Kevin Mullin. This conference is about discussing how technology can be leveraged by public agencies and non-profits to better fulfill their missions of serving the public. This year there were a number of sessions where speakers discussed (a) how some private sector companies leverage technology to serve their customers and how those lessons can be applied to the public sector, (b) what specific solutions can apply to public sector needs, and (c) how private and public sectors can work together to share data, applications, and insights.

The keynote speaker, Nelson Gonzalez, talked about the goal of “humanizing” technology — making it disappear into the background as well as making public servants “designers” of experiences leveraging technology.

A number of companies talked about the power of leveraging Open Data to give more and better information to residents. For example, Yelp talked about being another platform for Open Data in that they display restaurant health scores alongside their listings and ratings. Also, a few panelists talked about the power of private companies’ sharing data with public agencies for specific insights. A representative from Waze gave the example of sharing traffic and accident data to government agencies to help them with incident response and for better traffic planning. Lastly, there were a number of examples of how government can get valuable insights from “big data.”

There was also a session on the primacy of mobile access. Clearly, the notion of anytime/anywhere access and location-relevant content is critical for both private sector companies and public agencies. With the penetration of mobile phones, mobile-based content allows any enterprise to reach harder-to-access populations and people who aren’t tied to desktops/laptops.

A representative from the San Francisco Airport talked about how providing free WiFi access across the airport not only dramatically increased passenger satisfaction but also gave them great data on passenger flow to tweak operations. They have also partnered with the private sector — getting data from the ride share companies to understand car traffic patterns.

There were also some sessions on civic engagement as well as how technology and design can directly impact real-world public sector issues, like education and environmental stewardship.

The event also recognized the strong work by the San Mateo County Library System in leveraging technology.

Clearly many of the ideas discussed at the conference are integral to the technology goals of San Mateo County, including meeting the growing needs of a mobile constituency, building connections through reliability & security, service and transparency, and building platforms implementing applications that address future needs and ensure effective delivery.

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