Our Executive Director, Tom Snyder and the Vice President of Growth at Cocoflo, Jonathan Levitt sat down for a Q&A to talk about Government Tech, IoT and customer discovery.
Cocoflo is a software company offering a single solution digital platform designed to revolutionize the way government services are available, both internally for administrative management and externally for citizen engagement
Q.) Give a quick, high level view of Cocoflo?
A.) Cocoflo has been around since 2019. Essentially we’re working with cities and municipalities to help them on their digital transformation journey. So in terms of our offerings, think city hall on the cloud. Basically what we’re doing is working with those folks to digitize city services. Things that would normally require a visit down to city hall and moving those online through a platform that we call “My City Hall.” Essentially allowing citizens to interact with the city, pay bills, apply for business licenses, building permits, that type of stuff. So really anything that typically would require you to get in the car and go down to city hall we’re looking to to bring online.
Q.) What does the term Digital Transformation mean to you?
A.) Digital transformation is what people used to refer to as automation of processes, right? Things that normally would require manual process being digitized, or being brought online. I think it’s one of those terms that is really quite wide in scope. For me, digital transformation is essentially applying technology and data to processes that normally didn’t have them.
Q.) When we think of how folks interact with municipalities, the county, the state, wherever it is that they live, certainly there is that in-person opportunity to go down to city hall but then everybody has a website. How are you different?
A.) One hundred percent, everybody’s got a website. What we find is that when it comes to city hall services it’s very discombobulated, both from the perspective of the citizen experience but even on the backend from a city administration perspective. You’ve got a lot of legacy systems in place that don’t necessarily talk to each other and don’t necessarily share data. From a citizen experience perspective you are typically sending people to one URL to pay a bill and another to apply for a pet license and nothing’s really centralized. What Cocoflo does and one of the differentiators with our product is that we sit on top of legacy systems and we bridge into those through different APIs and data dumps and other forms of technology.
But the idea really is twofold; one, it provides citizens with a single sign on so they can log into one place with one ID and they can access all the city hall services, and the other is to provide data aggregation to city administrators, pulling data from the different systems, aggregating it into sort of one source of truth if you will and making it accessible and manageable.
Q.) How do you engage the resident side to help them to know this is the thing they want or not? Or does it suddenly show up on their door and the government has decided this is your thing you have to take.
A.) I think it depends on the city and the city’s approach. I like to believe that the citizen gets involved prior to the digital roadmap being built out, right? I’m a big believer in the voice of the customer the voice of citizens. I think if a city’s doing it right they’re really tapping into that stakeholder group to understand what are the wants and needs.
So again, in a perfect world, citizens are aware of the fact that a city or a municipality is going through this process with the hopes of really bettering life for them right? Then it’s a question really of communication. Once platforms are moved online, once systems are digitized, it really is about citizen engagement.
We can build the sexiest greatest platform out there, but if nobody is gonna use it then it’s useless and it’s a waste of money. So we typically work with cities, we work with city stakeholders to help them draft those communications and outline the benefits for citizens about why it makes sense for them to adopt new platforms and new technologies and ultimately spell out the fact that it’s going to make life easier for them.
Q.) Does this tool aside from creating operational efficiency from creating data forward recommendation engines also become the town square? The place where people can actually give their feedback directly back and have it listened to?
A.) Yeah, absolutely it depends on the city some are more willing to listen than others. Listening to the voice of citizens is a sort of double-edged sword, on one hand you’re gonna hear all the things that you’re doing well, and on the other hand you’re going to hear all the things that you’re not doing well. Different cities have sort of different levels of appetite in terms of listening to the voice of the citizen. Our platform allows for the integration of a feedback loop so citizens can provide feedback on a number of different topics and that feedback is then routed to the appropriate stakeholders internally at the city.
Q.) What brought you to this kind of interesting intersection of tech and public governance? Did you come from the public sector? Did you come out of technology? What brought you to where you are today?
A.) I came out of technology, I did not in fact come outta the public sector, but I’ve been in digital and in web since the late nineties. I started my first entrepreneurial venture as a web development shop in 1998. I was in Canada, we were one of the first vertically integrated shops and we were building websites at the time for businesses. This was you know before anybody really understood what the internet was. It was one of these things where people were starting to hear about the web as you know a marketing channel and wanted to hop on board and wanted to get involved. My business was building web presence for B2B. One of the things that made us a little bit different and got me into this space was this was before people were transacting online. You were called crazy if you would input your your credit card number over the web back in the nineties, right? So what we were doing was building sites that were helping brands understand their audience profiling and tracking very early CRM before CRM was even a buzzword, but the goal was really to try and help these brands understand what are people coming to my website to do, and in fact are they able to do it.
Digital for me was a passion and it bled into analytics because it wasn’t enough to just you know put it up there and hope for the best. We had tools at the time like Google Analytics that would help brands understand what was happening on their properties, but there was a lack of tools around understanding why people were doing the things they were doing. I’m talking really about platforms that were disrupting traditional market research, but helping brands understand what’s in the hearts and minds of my customer. I’ve been in startup my whole life typically in growth environments. Most of the businesses that I’ve been involved with were technology driven businesses, but that didn’t necessarily understand from a go-to-market perspective how to position and then more importantly how to scale, that’s really how I got into digital and tech.
My wife and I bought a bought a home and it became a passion project to make it a smart home. I was putting sensors in everything I could, if it could be connected to the cloud. The smart home platform became something that I spent a tremendous amount of time and money on. When I met the folks at Cocoflo and heard about what they were doing around smart cities, it was just a natural fit for me in terms of both the technology and the analytics, it all sort of just came together serendipitously.
Q.) A smart city is really just a gigantic smart home, right?
A.) Pretty much right. I’m a marketer at my core, but I’ve always been a data driven guy who likes to let the data lead and so that lends itself quite well to sort of smart city infrastructure as well.
Q.) What sweet spot are you finding for this kind of technology or have you in terms of type of city?
A.) Our core market is not the big cities with millions of folks in them, those cities typically tend to build out their own teams and infrastructure internally. They are sort of executing on the digital roadmap on their own.
For us, the sweet spot is a little bit of the smaller markets, the smaller cities and municipalities who may have the vision and the leadership to become a smart city, but don’t necessarily have the resources to get it done. and that’s where we come in.
City hall is only one component of a smart city and so the smaller cities tend to wanna start there. The low-hanging fruit around things like bill payment and permit applications and that type of thing, but the long-term roadmaps involve everything from smart sensors and smart street lights, waste management and all of these things that collectively will make a city smart.
Q.) If you were able to wave a magic wand and say here’s a cool big step forward that the sector could take, what’s holding it back right now? What’s slowing the growth of the Smart City initiative?
A.) I think it’s probably a little bit of politics to be honest. There’s certainly budgetary requirements that pose a a problem for some of the cities out there, but I think it’s about people really needing to understand that this idea of customer centricity or citizen centricity is everything. Moving city hall services into the cloud has been accelerated by the pandemic so that’s worked well for us, but we believe that’s low hanging fruit. I mean, just giving citizens the ability to interact with city hall from the comfort of their mobile device on their couch is a huge step, and I think that’s how you move society along in terms of their adoption of all of the different components of a smart city, but it’s gotta be focused on them you know, on what makes their lives easier, first and foremost. I think Cocoflo’s well positioned to sort of be a catalyst to that.
Q.) For those who are ready to take that digital transformation step, how can they reach you?
A.) The best place to reach us is on our website at Cocoflo.com fill out a form and we’ll get back to them within 24 hours. Typical engagement for us starts with the needs assessment. We really want to hold their hand and, and take them through the benefits of this process, what it means for them, what it means for citizens and do it through a a partnership model. Our clients are partners and particularly when we start talking digital transformation, you’re talking about a long-term initiative. It doesn’t happen in three to six months it happens in three to five years and so really what we’re looking for are cities and clients who want to take on that journey, but want to do it through the lens of a partnership with us.
Connect with Jonathan Levitt on Linkedin
Connect with Cocoflo on Linkedin