OpenGov’s Comparisons Aims To Help Local Governments Benchmark Spending

OpenGov launched Comparisons yesterday morning, a feature that allows local and municipal governments in its network to compare their performances against other jurisdictions and established benchmarks.

In addition to giving governments using the platform access to information about other local authorities, Comparisons also pulls census data and financial metrics, which are incorporated into an interactive report that users see. While the software is aimed at local governments, state governments can also use it.

“We set out to change that by building a network where governments share accurate financial data with each other,” said Zac Bookman, OpenGov’s CEO, in an email to TechCrunch.

OpenGov, known as Delphi Solutions until 2013, provides web-based data representation and visualization tools for governments at the state and municipal levels. The company’s core product is a set of financial analysis tools, which allow users to investigate expenditures by a variety of parameters, like funding type and department.

OpenGov office in Redwood City, Ca. June 11, 2015. (Photo copyright Nader Khouri 2015)

Comparisons is currently available to companies already subscribing to the OpenGov Intelligence suite, which is a financial and performance analysis tool.

The company, whose board Marc Andreessen recently joined, recently raised $25 million in financing earlier this month from Andreessen Horowitz and other investors.

Although benchmarking and comparative estimates are not new in the public sector, collecting and normalizing data for such purposes has historically been time and labor-intensive.

“We set out to change that [the benchmarking process] by building a network where governments share accurate financial data with each other,” explained Bookman.

Comparisons uses several data points already in the OpenGov suite, such as household incomes, law enforcement density and crime statistics, and combines them into an interactive chart, which can be rearranged from format to format. The tool typically normalizes data on a per-capita basis, but also allows comparison attributes, such as a comparison of per capita income by area with law enforcement officer density, or crime rates.

“By applying data-science and layering on publicly available performance data, we present instant apples-to-apples comparisons in the right context,” added Bookman.

In terms of appearance and usage, OpenGov’s software is closest to a highly sophisticated set of Microsoft Excel PivotCharts combined with automatic data collection and integration.

At the moment, there are just over 500 governments in the OpenGov network, and the company claims to be onboarding more at a rate of over 350 a year. This rapid induction is one of the powerful factors behind the Comparisons tool due to the impact a larger dataset has on finding similar governments to compare with. Financial and economic data in the software does not come from public data sets, instead being imported from internal accounting systems of governments who are already signed up for OpenGov.

“Financial data in OpenGov Comparisons comes from the individual governments’ accounting systems through an import process that is run as often as our customers want,” added Bookman in the statement to TechCrunch.

Although the feature will be undoubtedly useful for the current size of the governments that form the bulk of OpenGov’s client base, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not the feature will be scalable to larger institutions. Certainly as more and more municipalities and cities adopt the platform, the likelihood of state-level adoption grows. While OpenGov’s software is relevant for comparisons at the local and municipal level, it’s hard to see the Comparisons feature being useful for State governments, since benchmarking and comparisons become less accurate as similarities between entities dwindle at scale.