Q&A: Ken Melero, Director of Federal Sales at Socrata, Discusses Democratizing Government Data - (Archived)

Socrata’s cloud-based solutions helps government leaders improve transparency and modernize citizen access to information – with a vision of democratizing government data.  This year, the company received a $18 million Series B round of funding, which it is using to enhance its offering for the federal government.

Part of this expansion included bringing on Ken Melero (formerly of PIXIA Corporation) as the new Federal Sales Director.  FedPulse had the unique opportunity of speaking with Ken who provided the following insights on the growth of open data and government.

FedPulse: Tell us about Socrata.

Melero: Socrata is a cloud software company focused exclusively on helping government agencies simplify access to public data to increase transparency, improve citizen service, and support fact-based decision making. Federal agencies and programs including Medicare & Medicaid, Data.gov, EPA EnergyStar, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have all chosen Socrata for its SaaS subscription-based delivery of open data and performance management solutions.

Also, a few months ago, In-Q-Tel (IQT) made a strategic investment in Socrata. Under the agreement, the two entities will work together to further develop Socrata’s data consumerization platform for internal business analysts in data-rich organizations. Users of Socrata’s technologies can transform raw data from multiple sources into more sophisticated and useful resources, such as apps, reports, maps, visualizations, dashboards and application programming interfaces (APIs).

FedPulse: Why is democratizing access to government data so important to the federal sector?

Melero: The understanding that public data provides powerful fuel for innovation is taking root at the national level. In 2009, the White House launched Data.gov, an open data portal hosted by Socrata that brought federal economic, healthcare, environmental, and other data — all together in one place on the Web. Then, in May of 2013, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order stating that “open” and “machine-readable” is the new default for government data. Clearly, there is recognition at the highest levels of the federal government that open data is crucial. National leaders including Barack Obama, Todd Park (U.S. CTO), Steven Van Roekel (U.S. CIO), and many others have articulated the specific reasons for making it a priority — from the need to increase efficiency and accountability in government to using open data to stimulate economic activity.

I would argue that the larger and more bureaucratic a government organization is, the greater the urgency for open data to break down silos and streamline processes. By the same token, there is the potential to unlock enormous value from all of the data that federal government maintains. For reasons that are both eminently practical and also aligned with the ideals of our democracy, it makes sense that federal agencies lead the effort to democratize access to government data.

FedPulse: What more can federal agencies be doing to leverage open data solutions?

Melero: Free the data! Open data represents a unique opportunity for public sector organizations to apply innovative thinking to a resource they already have in abundance – their data. They can use it to find new solutions to age-old problems. Just last month, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced plans to expand her agency’s release of government data as fuel for economic growth. She discussed how NOAA is only able to release 2TBs of the 19TBs of data it produces on a daily basis. Imagine all that data about our oceans, climate, and weather that is not being leveraged to solve problems. Agencies should create an enterprise data inventory, make data available through a public data listing, and create processes to engage with the public as a way to promote economic development.

FedPulse: How can your solutions help government agencies “do more with less” in today’s austere budget climate?

Melero: Today, federal agencies are being re-imagined and reconfigured by a new generation of data analysts and engineers who are unleashing the mountains of data that departments and programs have amassed over the years. Open data initiatives can yield so many benefits. They can help make an agency’s workforce more efficient and productive, so that it can more effectively accomplish its mission, empower government employees to make fact-based decisions, and reduce costs by better understanding program performance. And the human impact of these initiatives is inspiring. Examples include how open agricultural data has helped promote food security in countries throughout Africa, and how open health data is helping fight deadly contagious diseases around the world. Socrata’s platform delivers easy-to-use solutions through an extremely affordable monthly subscription, giving public agencies a powerful way to do more with the data they have, while lowering costs over time.

FedPulse: Tell us about your DC presence (and growth) and efforts to secure more federal clients.

Melero: In April of 2013, Socrata reported growth of 126 percent year-over-year, which led to $18 million in Series B funding from OpenView Venture Partners, Morgenthaler Ventures, and Frazier Technology Partners, as well as strategic investment from In-Q-Tel. This investment allowed the company to accelerate its plans to adapt its current public cloud SaaS offering to private and hybrid Intelligence clouds. At this time, Socrata decided to invest in a Federal headquarters based in Washington DC. This regional office, currently with about 10 folks, will continue to grow and focus on supporting federal civilian, NGOs, the DOD, and intelligence agencies and their adoption of cloud-based SaaS platforms for open data.

FedPulse: Anything else to add?

Melero: I would just like to add that hundreds of developers use open data hosted on Socrata-powered information sites to create apps for citizens. Some of my favorite include TowText, an app that sends subscribers a text message if their car is towed by the City of Chicago; HealthyOut, an app that makes finding a healthy meal in New York easy; and LookatCook, a website that lets Cook County residents find out how their tax dollars are being spent.

We would like to thank Ken for taking the time to speak with us.  To learn more about Socrata, please click here. You can also email Ken Melero, Director of Federal, at Ken.Melero@Socrata.com or contact him by phone at (703) 577-2333.

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