The race to open up government data to the public is typically described in terms of creating better services for citizens and new opportunities for businesses and nonprofits.
The benefits of open data can sometimes show up closer to home, however, as demonstrated by the new mobile application hōrd, which allows government contractors to track project solicitations from their iPhones.
Hōrd was developed by the company GovTribe, founded by three former Deloitte consultants. The app allows users to search for federal contracting notices and awards using keywords. They can also search by a contractor’s name to keep tabs on what their competitors are up to.
App users can also “hōrd” a particular notice to receive alerts every time it’s updated.
GovTribe released a beta version of hōrd in January and an updated version last week. The app is free for now. Once everything is up and running, the company plans to offer some basic services for free and to charge a subscription fee for other services, CEO Nate Nash said.
The idea for hōrd grew out of the GovTribe partners’ own experiences being frustrated with how difficult it was to track and manage federal contracting notices, Nash said. Contractors typically have to search through a government website to discover new contract solicitations and can only learn about changes to those contracts via daily email alerts that are difficult to set up or change.
The app is built primarily with data from the Federal Business Opportunities website, the System for Awards Management site and contract dispute documents from the Government Accountability Office, Nash said. GovTribe built its own data mining tools to parse through that data and deliver it to the mobile app.
The company is also working with some historical contracting information from USASpending.gov, but hasn’t displayed that information to users yet, he said.
Nash credits the government with making strides in opening data up to the public, but says agencies still have a ways to go in making their data easy for developers to use.
“The promise of open data isn’t just that this information is readily available to read, it’s that it’s available in a format that makes it easy for a machine to read,” he said. “That’s what powers innovation and it’s not available all the time.”
For entrepreneurs interested in working with government data, Nash said he recommends thinking less about what data’s available and more about what products would be useful for consumers.
“The data itself is sort of irrelevant,” he said. “You have to do something to remix it, to combine it with other data that answers a question or draws a conclusion or promotes some action. Just presenting data to people doesn’t necessarily do much. People don’t care if a product is built on open data, they care if it does something better or faster.”
The app: hōrd
The company: Gov Tribe
The story: Three consultants saw how government contracting could be managed better
The data: Federal contracting information from the General Services Administration, the Government Accountability Office and agency contracting officers
The business case: A subscription service with some free components
Advice to government data entrepreneurs: Think about the business case first, not the data