Kevin Merritt Talks Data With GeekWire

March 24, 2015 3:34 pm PDT | Data Rockstars

“As a regular resident, you are using open data today, whether you know it or not,” points out Kevin Merritt, Socrata’s founder and CEO, on a recent episode of the GeekWire radio show. Along with the show’s hosts, Todd Bishop and John Cook, Merritt discusses the explosion of data available from the government, and the best way to get must-know information in front of the public.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Merritt details Socrata’s deep commitment to making data widely available through a two-pronged approach: first, publishing data from the government in a format readable by both people and machines, and second, forming partnerships with consumer-facing companies, to provide data to people contextually.

Providing Data Where You’d Expect It

Implemented correctly, data can help people make informed decisions ranging from the life changing (where should I buy a home?) to the everyday (where should I grab a bite to eat?). Having relevant data is important, but just as key is putting the data in front of consumers where and when they need the information.

Take picking out a restaurant for dinner: it’s unlikely after scouring reviews and ratings on Yelp that a person would also head to the health department website to review restaurant inspection grades. But as anyone who’s had food poisoning knows, restaurant inspection information is important. That’s where Socrata’s partnership with Yelp comes in: funneling health inspection data so that it appears on Yelp’s restaurant pages, and can help someone decide if a restaurant is a go or a no-go.

“The vision that we have for the open data network is that it will provide data to everyday consumers where they are already making small and big data decisions in their lives,” says Merritt. Socrata’s goal with the Yelp partnership – as with all their partnerships – is to get data into broad circulation, so it’s available to consumers without friction or search.

Transforming How the Government Does Business

When Cook and Bishop inquire about the slow speed of government contracts, Merritt mentions that in fact, Socrata’s sales cycle is quite speedy — taking “less than three months for us to go from contact to transaction and getting that government customer up and running using our platform.”

Part of that speed is due to Socrata’s process. Although there are three major types of data consumers – public citizens; data junkies, such as journalists, economists, and scientists; and entrepreneurs, eager to use data programmatically – Socrata only requires the government to publish the data a single time. Then, Socrata’s “software maps that data to three different stakeholder groups automatically.”

Of course, much of the government’s technology is crafted from bespoke, individually developed systems. For many government organizations, dealing with Socrata is “the first thing they’d done anything in the cloud, and the first SaaS. We actually enjoy the teaching part – talking a bit about what is SaaS, and why you should buy cloud computing.”

It’s inspiring, Merritt says, to “transform the way the government does business.” Socrata’s overarching mission remains making data available. “We’re embracing and adopting open data standards to help facilitate moving data from the government into the mainstream audience,” says Merritt.

Want more? Listen to the full conversation on GeekWire, for a look into Socrata’s roots as a databasing company, the major investment money Socrata has received, and what’s next for Socrata.


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