Internet Entrepreneur on Harnessing Tech for the Good of New York
By Kevin P. Ryan, Founder & CEO, Zola, Nomad Health & MongoDB for Crain's New York Business
We have a choice in New York.
The past few months have shed even greater light on the drastic shortcomings and inequities in our civic, economic and social infrastructure. We now have the opportunity to choose between rebuilding our city and state using the same complex patchwork of municipal and social processes that have existed for decades, or we can reinvent the processes by building more collective accountability, embracing and inviting technology and a new class of entrepreneurs to build a future together.
In the past 15 years we have seen monumental innovation in New York's private technology sector in software, cloud computing, health care, data, direct-to-consumer products and marketplaces, to name a few. But despite these gains, we now need more innovative work that connects the private sector to the public sector to serve residents better.
One way to put it: How much of the city's 2021 budget proposal of $89.3B could we ultimately save if we substituted longer-lasting solutions for interim payment planning and incremental savings?
The choice to harness technology in government infrastructure is the choice to significantly improve the quality of human lives in the immediate term and across critical areas, such as food access and distribution, criminal and social justice, health care and immigration.
We have the opportunity to create a municipal services network that doesn't just offer services for services' sake, but rather one that prioritizes intelligence and connectivity, allowing one service to inform the next—ultimately painting a more complete picture of each resident's needs and how best to fulfill them.
We could start together in a few areas.
We could examine procurement processes and centralization (touching the $20 billion of goods a year from outside contractors) to see where technology might unlock efficiency.
We could forge partnerships between smaller companies and city and state governments to provide key services to residents with greater efficiency. (Think Department of Motor Vehicles processes, jury duty administration, Medicare and Medicaid enrollment, food stamps and unemployment benefits.)
We could together build new frontiers in education, an area where virtual classrooms make technology an absolutely necessity. We could launch tech-focused job training programs, harnessing resources, talent and lessons from the technology sector to help more New Yorkers access it. There is significant opportunity to increase the speed and intentionality around partnerships among government and private-sector technologists.
Technology companies and new entrepreneurs are ready and willing to help, and we have been for a long time. But it will take an open-minded and committed reexamination of what is possible. It will take implementing these public-private partnerships, relaxing red tape, and being honest with ourselves about which processes and laws are truly needed to protect residents and which are antiquated and intended only to protect an industry.
Providing true innovation to deeply seeded public and social services necessitates that we think in a different way. The call to action could not be more urgent.
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