Business

๐Ÿ’ป Why the no-code revolution is coming to local government

JT chats with former New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway. After helping lead New York Cityโ€™s relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, Cas joined a startup called Unqork as its head of public enterprise.

John Thomey
John Thomey
Feb 4, 2021
๐Ÿ’ป Why the no-code revolution is coming to local government
๐Ÿ”’ Member-only content. ๐Ÿ”’
OR

Welcome back to Urban Tech! John, here, your personal guide to the intersection of cities and tech. ๐Ÿ—บ

Todayโ€™s conversation is with former New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway. After helping lead New York Cityโ€™s relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, Cas joined a startup called Unqork as its head of public enterprise.

His work at Unqork focuses on advising local governments to make communication with communities more affordable and efficient. Because of the budget constraints that local governments face, the IT landscape is incredibly fragmented and inefficient.

Unqork comes in and builds on top of these legacy systems to help governments digitize services efficiently. You're going to learn a lot from Cas.

We covered a ton in the conversation:

  • Cas explained to me how no-code platforms like Unqork help local governments consolidate their fragmented IT infrastructure
  • He shared what he learned about innovation and leadership while working for New York City.
  • We also got into some of his thoughts on climate and resiliency planning, and how cities can better prepare for disasters before they hit.

Where to listen

Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Amazon Music | Select Podcast Player

JT: I'm super excited to get to chat with you. Can you tell me about your work during Hurricane Sandy and how you got into working for a no-code startup?

CH: Sure. So just starting with a little bit of background, my first job out of college was for the Parks Department of New York City. I got my first taste of New York City politics then and then went and got a law degree. I worked at law firms in New York City but then had the opportunity in 2006 to join the Bloomberg administration.

I thought I would be there for a couple of years. Eight years later, I had been at City Hall, ran the water and sewer utility, which is called DEP, and served as deputy mayor for operations for the last two and a half years of the Bloomberg administration.

During that period, Superstorm Sandy hit, lots of other stuff happened, but Sandy was one of the most significant events natural disaster events to ever hit the city. That is one example that shows a direct link between my work during Hurricane Sandy and how I ended up at a startup. The throughline for both periods is technology.

Back in 2012, when Sandy hit, you have tens of thousands of people impacted by the disaster. Some people were affected in the worst way. We lost 44 New Yorkers, which is a tragedy, but tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Many homes were destroyed, and people needed relief.

In these situations, you get initial relief from an agency called FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Still then, the real long-term relief comes through HUD, actually through CDBG grants, the linkage between these two programs back then at least was not very good. What you had to do as a local jurisdiction was essentially build from scratch technology to manage people moving from one program into the longer-term HUD program. It took months, which was very frustrating. And I ultimately left city government at the end of the Bloomberg administration. I worked at Bloomberg LP for several years but then learned about Unqork, this platform that offered the prospect of no code.

And when I saw the platform, my immediate reaction was that's it. If I'd had that, we would have been able to respond much more effectively and quickly to people's needs after Sandy. And so I joined the firm, and luckily we've been fortunate to be able to help some cities, New York City included, to make some COVID response.

So that's how I ended up at Uncork. I can tell you more about that.

JT: I think before we get to Unqork, I want to dive a little bit into that background because Hurricane Sandy speaks a lot to me personally. I'm from Houston. I grew up South of Houston on the Gulf Coast and evacuated for multiple hurricanes growing up. What did you focus on for Hurricane Sandy, and what observations were you left with?

CH: One thing that I was very lucky to be part of the Bloomberg administration is that the Bloomberg administration had a lot of great talent in it, but Mike focused on not just the day-to-day but long-term planning.

He is a unique politician in that respect. There are many politicians, and some by extent by necessity are much more focused on the immediate tactical issues. Even if they're thinking about their long-term goals, it's really on a four-year timeline. In 2007, the Bloomberg administration put out a plan called PlaNYC, and that was aimed to plan goals for the City until 2030.

It was a comprehensive blueprint for sustainability and livability in New York City. And it was based on one fact that the census projections were that New York City was going to grow by a million residents by 2030. And Mike's question was, "my gosh, how are we gonna, how w how is the city going to accommodate that?"

Of course, you have to deal with climate infrastructure, transportation, and all of those things. And if you look at PlaNYC now, and it's been done by dozens and dozens of cities translated into many languages, it is a landmark plan. So Sandy hit, and I had a role during the Bloomberg administration in implementing PlaNYC, the immediate response was what you had to deal with first: from the storms coming, planning around potential evacuations, getting people into shelters, then you have to get most people out of the shelters. Then we set up a program to get people back into their homes. But Mike also did, then what he had done in 2007, he said, โ€œwe're going to deal with this immediate response to what people need, but we also should say what does the city need to survive going forward?โ€

So the administration released a stronger, more resilient New York plan. And it is a comprehensive blueprint for resiliency. Looking at the particular challenges that New York City faces from climate in particular.

New York, Houston, and many places in California are facing one common threat: the sheer number of catastrophic events. And what was formerly seen as hundred-year events, 200-year events, 500-year events are happening with much, much greater frequency, which is one of the consequences of climate change.

And so these plans are badly needed for cities to adapt to what the new reality is going to be.

JT: I'd love to dig into that a bit. I think about this topic a lot. How local governments can reform their structure to make it more efficient for disaster and resiliency planning. New York has a unique structure that no other city in the world has. The system allowed a Mayor like Bloomberg to reform the bureaucracy by giving more power to people like you to hire and execute great ideas. I come from Texas, but I live in LA now, and I have never seen a local government structure in the US as unique as New York's

CH: Your observation, New York City is like no other place is, right on.

And it does have to do with structure. New York City is an incredibly powerful mayoralty. And this is the result really of almost accident. The reforms that were necessitated by the fact that certain government structures in New York City were deemed unconstitutional in 1989 caused a revision of the charter that ended up putting tremendous power in the Mayor.

The City Council is also powerful but, the Mayor of New York City can make policy decisions and has broad control working in consensus with many other parties. The mayor can do things like investing several billion dollars in infrastructure for resiliency to make decisions about how the healthcare system will work to make decisions about how the food network is going to be made more resilient.

But New York City also has a great tradition of collaboration with the region. There's the Regional Planning Association, of course, which is one of the famous good government organizations.

JT: I'm a huge fan of RPA and was lucky to work with people associated with RPA when I started working in New York.

CH: Oh yeah. So, as am I, and I think they're on their fourth major plan.

And so while on the one hand, New York City's local government does give a high degree of autonomy and authority to the Mayor, there is also this rich tradition of collaboration. The current politics between the city and the state, for example, is, more of an anomaly. However, there's always been friction between New York City, the mayor and the governor, and others.

I think it's particularly the case nowโ€”no comment on that, except that it's the case.

JT: I noticed the inevitable friction between the mayor of NYC and the governor when I worked in NY politics. Can you share a little more on that?

CH: It is inevitable, but I will say Mike Bloomberg was mayor for 12 years, and I think that spanned four governors at some point. Tremendous amounts of many different kinds of things were done between the city and the state that we couldn't have gotten done from the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. As dysfunctional at times as that whole process seemed, it is the case that ten years from that tragedy, the site was open and the Memorial was opened. That's pretty phenomenal.

There are plenty of other examples too. You have Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was a state entity. You have the Highline; you have many great big things. Not everything went through. Congestion pricing ran right into some of the typical structural things in government.

But anyway, I think that regional planning and collaboration is something that New York City has thatโ€™s unique. With Unqork, we've been talking to a lot of different jurisdictions at the city and the County level about our rent relief program, which is designed to help local governments disperse quickly, the relief that came through the latest COVID stimulus bill, and you, the city, and the County structure, the ideal thing to do is for everyone, for people to cooperate. And I see it happening, which is a great thing.

So I think that that multi-layered multi-layer, multi-jurisdictional structure of our system can contribute to inefficiency, but it can work.

JT: I think that's great. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about Unqork now that kind of got the background stuff. Maybe just give me some of the high levels. I know you guys; I think I recently had some funding news and what the focus is now. And really, I know you guys have been around for a few years, but it seems they are taking off.

CH: just a sentence on what Unqork is. Itโ€™s an app. Itโ€™s a software development platform, and it's a new way to build software and build software without writing code. Some people hear that, and they say, โ€œmy gosh, that can't be the case,โ€ but it is. We are a no-code application development platform for the enterprise.

We are serving the largest financial institutions, insurance companies, and now cities and local governments, and we are also looking to move into the federal space as well. And what no code, enables several benefits that we can talk through just to finish with the overview though, the platform is a full technology stack from the user interface to the workflow.

Rules, engine and, complex calculations to the backend database and analytics, and then the whole, the security that is so important to any enterprise software. So Unqork is all of that in one. One of the most powerful elements of Unqork is that we easily integrate with legacy systems, which anyone in the local government will tell you is the biggest; one of the biggest frustrations of technology transformation is that you and you have inherited this tremendous amount of legacy.

And too often before now, it was the case that you had to replace that to take full advantage of it. New technologies. And, of course, that costs a tremendous amount of money. And from a political perspective, it isn't always the thing that newly elected officials want to focus on.

Unqork facilitates doing that in a way and at a speed that wasn't possible before.

JT: I know you were doing some work, and you mentioned at the top, I think about some of the COVID response, and maybe that's a good example to give an idea on how this works, because I know I'm not a technical person, so a no-code platform for me, I'm a big fan of notion for collaborative stuff and the no-code revolutions, a huge trend that I'm focused on, but I can sympathize.

For the local government workers who are trying to just understand this stuff a little bit better. So maybe just walk me through an example.

CH: Absolutely. The way you build applications in Unqork is through a set of visual drag and drop interfaces. I am starting with a workflow. So what that enables is the people who deliver services and on the business side, the people who deliver or business a business process to build the application that they, want to build.

And ultimately, it is still an incredibly important partner, but ultimately to deploy it now, what it also enables is its high flexibility and speed. That you can develop complex applications when you don't have to translate requirements into software and code is pretty incredible.

So one of the things with COVID response is that this is all public record, but we have we worked with the city to develop an application that they use to help deliver food to the food insecure. And we were able to deliver that in 72 hours. What that enabled was people to fill out a survey to see if they qualify as food insecure order meals, and then have those meals delivered by drivers who worked for the taxi and limousine commission.

That is really when you think about it, a combination of UberEats and Amazon fulfillment and you were able to put that together just in a matter of days. It enables The delivery of complex applications at unprecedented speed. And we also integrated with many legacy systems and so forth.

JT: What concerns are people in government talking about when you chat with them about nocode? I'd imagine security is one. Also, what are they hoping to accomplish?

CH: You hit on the issue that is first and foremost in everyone's mind and that is security across multiple dimensions. First of all, is what you mentioned which are attacks by bad actors out there who want to bring systems down or try to get some kind of leverage over an existing system to extract payment.

Extort something then there's just regular day-to-day security. That has more to do with who In an application is allowed to see what and do, what, how do you keep roles separated? How do you ensure that the integrity of data and the integrity of processes are maintained?

And so Unqork was built to address both of those security concerns from the ground up. We are a first in the way that we deploy. We deploy them what's called a single-tenant cloud instance. Many cloud companies mix all of their customers, the other in a, in an environment.

And that's fine as far as it goes, but when you deploy an Unqork, let's say we're working with bank or city X. They're in a cloud environment that is fully secured encryption at rest and in transit many other security protections. Still, also they're the only ones there. There's no co-mingling of customers.

No so, one of the things that people have great confidence in right off the bat is I, at least I'm in this instance and it's just me. So that's one example of how we are built to accommodate the security requirements of the most stringent government-private sector and now healthcare entities.

JT: I can imagine sensitive information is an issue, particularly when you're talking about healthcare. As you look ahead to the next few years and some of the technology on the horizon, things like blockchain technology or LIDAR; what are the categories that local governments will particularly use to improve services and results?

CH: The one I'm most excited about, which isn't going to be a surprise to you is no code. And the reason for that is because it, has the applicability cuts across the entire public sector from public safety to infrastructure and operations, to case management and in the healthcare context to economic development, let's take this rent relief application.

So this program, $25 billion, every state gets $200 million. The treasury is already distributing funds but the requirements to ensure that the right people get the money. That the right records are taken, that the right prioritization is done in terms of people's income level and whether or not they're properly that, who they are, has been confirmed and entitled to relief.

All of those requirements are incredibly important, and they can be onerous and with a platform like Unqork, and not only are we able to stand up a digital. To end-to-end solution for local governments to implement, we can bring into the platform very easily different services Lexus nexus, for example for security purposes single sign-on, and different security Protocols that can be unique to jurisdictions or that are certain kinds of standards.

And so when you mentioned blockchain or you mentioned LIDAR blockchain as a component as a way of. It is a methodology of doing a database and distributing data and maintaining its integrity through a record that can't be edited that can easily be integrated with Unqork machine learning.

Also. Easy to apply machine learning models, to any data that you're bringing into Uncork. We're working on that in the social services space. One of the big trends is that local governments are looking and saying that we want to make sure that the policy focuses on police work and we want social services.

And another agency is to deal with. The things that require a social service approach. But how do you distinguish these things today? In many places, you have the police responding do tons of things that are not police-related. So you can use it. Things like machine learning natural language processing effectively route things to the right agency, much more quickly.

So that's just a simple example, but Unqork is a platform that enables you to plug in an almost unlimited array of services and functionality. Put it all together to deliver a process. And then when that process changes, as it inevitably will, you can easily make those changes and keep your application and move forward.

So that's one reason why I think no code is really exciting and something that in the public sector just like it's taken off in the private sector and now in healthcare will really, I think make a big difference over time. All those other technologies that you mentioned. They are also incredibly important.

And, they can all be joined up.

JT: There are many technologists working with local governments who read and listen to urban tech. So I'm curious what advice and maybe outside of getting on the NOCO trend and going in there, what advice do you have for them as they think about how to embrace innovation?

CH: A few things. First, I want to maybe challenge the underlying assumption that innovation is something that has come slow to the government.

Government is so often under-resourced. You know what my experience both in New York City and in meetings now with dozens of local governments is looking for innovative solutions. Now some things can get in the way procurement procedures can get in the way legacy technology can get in the way, but as a general matter, I have found that more often than not.

Chief information officers, chief technology officers, and certainly people who deliver services are willing to embrace and try the innovation. And so the first thing I would say is to keep that up. I think that it is the other thing is though there's just such a shortage of time.

And when you look at now, what local government is dealing with in terms of the response to COVID and moving into this economic recovery. There can be a tendency to say, I don't have the time to think about how to do this, or bring in a new platform, a new approach, a new technology us or anybody else.

And my only suggestion would be to take a moment and thinking through investing. Not a long investment cause nobody has a long time to respond to the needs here. I think you may find that the benefits reaped far outweigh the cost of maintaining and going with legacy systems and traditional approaches, even though you may think that you have to do that to move quickly.

And so I guess I would say, just make sure before you say I don't have the bandwidth or the time to think about that and see whether or not the benefits of maybe taking a little bit of time and thought are going to outweigh sticking with what you have.

JT: I love that point, and I think that's something that I saw in New York City and what got me excited.

One of the projects I got to work on early in my career was the Cornell tech project, in which the Bloomberg administration had a long role in that. There's a lot of history there, but I think that's an example of how government can be a catalyst for not only creating it but bringing together all the parties needed to create a healthy.

Innovation ecosystem. So I love that point. So I don't want to take up too much of your time. I have two kinds of standard questions. I asked everyone before you.

CH: asked that, actually let me, just go for it. And the bill, let me just build on one, one thing that you said there. Cause I think Cornell Technion is an amazing example of first of all, Boy oh boy, did it work right?

And people thought it was nuts at the time it.

JT: It did work. I agree. It is more than work.

CH: Right? People asked, โ€œyou are putting out an RFP to do what? You want to build a technology university on Roosevelt Island which is in the middle of the East River? That's crazy.โ€ So one thing that, and I would say the Bloomberg administration, but this is Mike Bloomberg and this, gets at one of the things that you said what is it that prevents people from being innovative?

And it's not a lack of desire, but bottleneck decision-making. And you are only having a very few numbers of people who are empowered to make decisions and take risks that happen in government a lot. If you get to the right person in a situation like that, you may find that they want to do a ton of innovative stuff.

However, there's only a certain amount of throughput that you can get through a system like that. And so another suggestion I have is to follow the Bloomberg model. Hire good people to delegate to those people and trust them. And by the way, let them fail because they're only going to be willing to try new stuff.

If they know that the consequences of not being completely successful will not be that you have to look for a new job.

JT: That point touches on so many of the themes and trends I love to think about and why I enjoy getting to talk to people like you so much. Where can people stay up to date with you and Unqork?

CH: Absolutely. Let's see, Unqork is on LinkedIn, our CEO, Gary Holdman also is active there.

I'm also active on LinkedIn. And if anyone has any interests I will do a demo for anybody โ€” just reach out.

This was great. Good luck with everything you're doing. Thank you for what you're doing.


Welcome back to Urban Tech! John, here, your personal guide to the intersection of cities and tech. ๐Ÿ—บ

Todayโ€™s conversation is with former New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway. After helping lead New York Cityโ€™s relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, Cas joined a startup called Unqork as its head of public enterprise.

His work at Unqork focuses on advising local governments to make communication with communities more affordable and efficient. Because of the budget constraints that local governments face, the IT landscape is incredibly fragmented and inefficient.

Unqork comes in and builds on top of these legacy systems to help governments digitize services efficiently. You're going to learn a lot from Cas.

We covered a ton in the conversation:

  • Cas explained to me how no-code platforms like Unqork help local governments consolidate their fragmented IT infrastructure
  • He shared what he learned about innovation and leadership while working for New York City.
  • We also got into some of his thoughts on climate and resiliency planning, and how cities can better prepare for disasters before they hit.

Where to listen

Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Amazon Music | Select Podcast Player

JT: I'm super excited to get to chat with you. Can you tell me about your work during Hurricane Sandy and how you got into working for a no-code startup?

CH: Sure. So just starting with a little bit of background, my first job out of college was for the Parks Department of New York City. I got my first taste of New York City politics then and then went and got a law degree. I worked at law firms in New York City but then had the opportunity in 2006 to join the Bloomberg administration.

I thought I would be there for a couple of years. Eight years later, I had been at City Hall, ran the water and sewer utility, which is called DEP, and served as deputy mayor for operations for the last two and a half years of the Bloomberg administration.

During that period, Superstorm Sandy hit, lots of other stuff happened, but Sandy was one of the most significant events natural disaster events to ever hit the city. That is one example that shows a direct link between my work during Hurricane Sandy and how I ended up at a startup. The throughline for both periods is technology.

Back in 2012, when Sandy hit, you have tens of thousands of people impacted by the disaster. Some people were affected in the worst way. We lost 44 New Yorkers, which is a tragedy, but tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Many homes were destroyed, and people needed relief.

In these situations, you get initial relief from an agency called FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Still then, the real long-term relief comes through HUD, actually through CDBG grants, the linkage between these two programs back then at least was not very good. What you had to do as a local jurisdiction was essentially build from scratch technology to manage people moving from one program into the longer-term HUD program. It took months, which was very frustrating. And I ultimately left city government at the end of the Bloomberg administration. I worked at Bloomberg LP for several years but then learned about Unqork, this platform that offered the prospect of no code.

And when I saw the platform, my immediate reaction was that's it. If I'd had that, we would have been able to respond much more effectively and quickly to people's needs after Sandy. And so I joined the firm, and luckily we've been fortunate to be able to help some cities, New York City included, to make some COVID response.

So that's how I ended up at Uncork. I can tell you more about that.

JT: I think before we get to Unqork, I want to dive a little bit into that background because Hurricane Sandy speaks a lot to me personally. I'm from Houston. I grew up South of Houston on the Gulf Coast and evacuated for multiple hurricanes growing up. What did you focus on for Hurricane Sandy, and what observations were you left with?

CH: One thing that I was very lucky to be part of the Bloomberg administration is that the Bloomberg administration had a lot of great talent in it, but Mike focused on not just the day-to-day but long-term planning.

He is a unique politician in that respect. There are many politicians, and some by extent by necessity are much more focused on the immediate tactical issues. Even if they're thinking about their long-term goals, it's really on a four-year timeline. In 2007, the Bloomberg administration put out a plan called PlaNYC, and that was aimed to plan goals for the City until 2030.

It was a comprehensive blueprint for sustainability and livability in New York City. And it was based on one fact that the census projections were that New York City was going to grow by a million residents by 2030. And Mike's question was, "my gosh, how are we gonna, how w how is the city going to accommodate that?"

Of course, you have to deal with climate infrastructure, transportation, and all of those things. And if you look at PlaNYC now, and it's been done by dozens and dozens of cities translated into many languages, it is a landmark plan. So Sandy hit, and I had a role during the Bloomberg administration in implementing PlaNYC, the immediate response was what you had to deal with first: from the storms coming, planning around potential evacuations, getting people into shelters, then you have to get most people out of the shelters. Then we set up a program to get people back into their homes. But Mike also did, then what he had done in 2007, he said, โ€œwe're going to deal with this immediate response to what people need, but we also should say what does the city need to survive going forward?โ€

So the administration released a stronger, more resilient New York plan. And it is a comprehensive blueprint for resiliency. Looking at the particular challenges that New York City faces from climate in particular.

New York, Houston, and many places in California are facing one common threat: the sheer number of catastrophic events. And what was formerly seen as hundred-year events, 200-year events, 500-year events are happening with much, much greater frequency, which is one of the consequences of climate change.

And so these plans are badly needed for cities to adapt to what the new reality is going to be.

JT: I'd love to dig into that a bit. I think about this topic a lot. How local governments can reform their structure to make it more efficient for disaster and resiliency planning. New York has a unique structure that no other city in the world has. The system allowed a Mayor like Bloomberg to reform the bureaucracy by giving more power to people like you to hire and execute great ideas. I come from Texas, but I live in LA now, and I have never seen a local government structure in the US as unique as New York's

CH: Your observation, New York City is like no other place is, right on.

And it does have to do with structure. New York City is an incredibly powerful mayoralty. And this is the result really of almost accident. The reforms that were necessitated by the fact that certain government structures in New York City were deemed unconstitutional in 1989 caused a revision of the charter that ended up putting tremendous power in the Mayor.

The City Council is also powerful but, the Mayor of New York City can make policy decisions and has broad control working in consensus with many other parties. The mayor can do things like investing several billion dollars in infrastructure for resiliency to make decisions about how the healthcare system will work to make decisions about how the food network is going to be made more resilient.

But New York City also has a great tradition of collaboration with the region. There's the Regional Planning Association, of course, which is one of the famous good government organizations.

JT: I'm a huge fan of RPA and was lucky to work with people associated with RPA when I started working in New York.

CH: Oh yeah. So, as am I, and I think they're on their fourth major plan.

And so while on the one hand, New York City's local government does give a high degree of autonomy and authority to the Mayor, there is also this rich tradition of collaboration. The current politics between the city and the state, for example, is, more of an anomaly. However, there's always been friction between New York City, the mayor and the governor, and others.

I think it's particularly the case nowโ€”no comment on that, except that it's the case.

JT: I noticed the inevitable friction between the mayor of NYC and the governor when I worked in NY politics. Can you share a little more on that?

CH: It is inevitable, but I will say Mike Bloomberg was mayor for 12 years, and I think that spanned four governors at some point. Tremendous amounts of many different kinds of things were done between the city and the state that we couldn't have gotten done from the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. As dysfunctional at times as that whole process seemed, it is the case that ten years from that tragedy, the site was open and the Memorial was opened. That's pretty phenomenal.

There are plenty of other examples too. You have Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was a state entity. You have the Highline; you have many great big things. Not everything went through. Congestion pricing ran right into some of the typical structural things in government.

But anyway, I think that regional planning and collaboration is something that New York City has thatโ€™s unique. With Unqork, we've been talking to a lot of different jurisdictions at the city and the County level about our rent relief program, which is designed to help local governments disperse quickly, the relief that came through the latest COVID stimulus bill, and you, the city, and the County structure, the ideal thing to do is for everyone, for people to cooperate. And I see it happening, which is a great thing.

So I think that that multi-layered multi-layer, multi-jurisdictional structure of our system can contribute to inefficiency, but it can work.

JT: I think that's great. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about Unqork now that kind of got the background stuff. Maybe just give me some of the high levels. I know you guys; I think I recently had some funding news and what the focus is now. And really, I know you guys have been around for a few years, but it seems they are taking off.

CH: just a sentence on what Unqork is. Itโ€™s an app. Itโ€™s a software development platform, and it's a new way to build software and build software without writing code. Some people hear that, and they say, โ€œmy gosh, that can't be the case,โ€ but it is. We are a no-code application development platform for the enterprise.

We are serving the largest financial institutions, insurance companies, and now cities and local governments, and we are also looking to move into the federal space as well. And what no code, enables several benefits that we can talk through just to finish with the overview though, the platform is a full technology stack from the user interface to the workflow.

Rules, engine and, complex calculations to the backend database and analytics, and then the whole, the security that is so important to any enterprise software. So Unqork is all of that in one. One of the most powerful elements of Unqork is that we easily integrate with legacy systems, which anyone in the local government will tell you is the biggest; one of the biggest frustrations of technology transformation is that you and you have inherited this tremendous amount of legacy.

And too often before now, it was the case that you had to replace that to take full advantage of it. New technologies. And, of course, that costs a tremendous amount of money. And from a political perspective, it isn't always the thing that newly elected officials want to focus on.

Unqork facilitates doing that in a way and at a speed that wasn't possible before.

JT: I know you were doing some work, and you mentioned at the top, I think about some of the COVID response, and maybe that's a good example to give an idea on how this works, because I know I'm not a technical person, so a no-code platform for me, I'm a big fan of notion for collaborative stuff and the no-code revolutions, a huge trend that I'm focused on, but I can sympathize.

For the local government workers who are trying to just understand this stuff a little bit better. So maybe just walk me through an example.

CH: Absolutely. The way you build applications in Unqork is through a set of visual drag and drop interfaces. I am starting with a workflow. So what that enables is the people who deliver services and on the business side, the people who deliver or business a business process to build the application that they, want to build.

And ultimately, it is still an incredibly important partner, but ultimately to deploy it now, what it also enables is its high flexibility and speed. That you can develop complex applications when you don't have to translate requirements into software and code is pretty incredible.

So one of the things with COVID response is that this is all public record, but we have we worked with the city to develop an application that they use to help deliver food to the food insecure. And we were able to deliver that in 72 hours. What that enabled was people to fill out a survey to see if they qualify as food insecure order meals, and then have those meals delivered by drivers who worked for the taxi and limousine commission.

That is really when you think about it, a combination of UberEats and Amazon fulfillment and you were able to put that together just in a matter of days. It enables The delivery of complex applications at unprecedented speed. And we also integrated with many legacy systems and so forth.

JT: What concerns are people in government talking about when you chat with them about nocode? I'd imagine security is one. Also, what are they hoping to accomplish?

CH: You hit on the issue that is first and foremost in everyone's mind and that is security across multiple dimensions. First of all, is what you mentioned which are attacks by bad actors out there who want to bring systems down or try to get some kind of leverage over an existing system to extract payment.

Extort something then there's just regular day-to-day security. That has more to do with who In an application is allowed to see what and do, what, how do you keep roles separated? How do you ensure that the integrity of data and the integrity of processes are maintained?

And so Unqork was built to address both of those security concerns from the ground up. We are a first in the way that we deploy. We deploy them what's called a single-tenant cloud instance. Many cloud companies mix all of their customers, the other in a, in an environment.

And that's fine as far as it goes, but when you deploy an Unqork, let's say we're working with bank or city X. They're in a cloud environment that is fully secured encryption at rest and in transit many other security protections. Still, also they're the only ones there. There's no co-mingling of customers.

No so, one of the things that people have great confidence in right off the bat is I, at least I'm in this instance and it's just me. So that's one example of how we are built to accommodate the security requirements of the most stringent government-private sector and now healthcare entities.

JT: I can imagine sensitive information is an issue, particularly when you're talking about healthcare. As you look ahead to the next few years and some of the technology on the horizon, things like blockchain technology or LIDAR; what are the categories that local governments will particularly use to improve services and results?

CH: The one I'm most excited about, which isn't going to be a surprise to you is no code. And the reason for that is because it, has the applicability cuts across the entire public sector from public safety to infrastructure and operations, to case management and in the healthcare context to economic development, let's take this rent relief application.

So this program, $25 billion, every state gets $200 million. The treasury is already distributing funds but the requirements to ensure that the right people get the money. That the right records are taken, that the right prioritization is done in terms of people's income level and whether or not they're properly that, who they are, has been confirmed and entitled to relief.

All of those requirements are incredibly important, and they can be onerous and with a platform like Unqork, and not only are we able to stand up a digital. To end-to-end solution for local governments to implement, we can bring into the platform very easily different services Lexus nexus, for example for security purposes single sign-on, and different security Protocols that can be unique to jurisdictions or that are certain kinds of standards.

And so when you mentioned blockchain or you mentioned LIDAR blockchain as a component as a way of. It is a methodology of doing a database and distributing data and maintaining its integrity through a record that can't be edited that can easily be integrated with Unqork machine learning.

Also. Easy to apply machine learning models, to any data that you're bringing into Uncork. We're working on that in the social services space. One of the big trends is that local governments are looking and saying that we want to make sure that the policy focuses on police work and we want social services.

And another agency is to deal with. The things that require a social service approach. But how do you distinguish these things today? In many places, you have the police responding do tons of things that are not police-related. So you can use it. Things like machine learning natural language processing effectively route things to the right agency, much more quickly.

So that's just a simple example, but Unqork is a platform that enables you to plug in an almost unlimited array of services and functionality. Put it all together to deliver a process. And then when that process changes, as it inevitably will, you can easily make those changes and keep your application and move forward.

So that's one reason why I think no code is really exciting and something that in the public sector just like it's taken off in the private sector and now in healthcare will really, I think make a big difference over time. All those other technologies that you mentioned. They are also incredibly important.

And, they can all be joined up.

JT: There are many technologists working with local governments who read and listen to urban tech. So I'm curious what advice and maybe outside of getting on the NOCO trend and going in there, what advice do you have for them as they think about how to embrace innovation?

CH: A few things. First, I want to maybe challenge the underlying assumption that innovation is something that has come slow to the government.

Government is so often under-resourced. You know what my experience both in New York City and in meetings now with dozens of local governments is looking for innovative solutions. Now some things can get in the way procurement procedures can get in the way legacy technology can get in the way, but as a general matter, I have found that more often than not.

Chief information officers, chief technology officers, and certainly people who deliver services are willing to embrace and try the innovation. And so the first thing I would say is to keep that up. I think that it is the other thing is though there's just such a shortage of time.

And when you look at now, what local government is dealing with in terms of the response to COVID and moving into this economic recovery. There can be a tendency to say, I don't have the time to think about how to do this, or bring in a new platform, a new approach, a new technology us or anybody else.

And my only suggestion would be to take a moment and thinking through investing. Not a long investment cause nobody has a long time to respond to the needs here. I think you may find that the benefits reaped far outweigh the cost of maintaining and going with legacy systems and traditional approaches, even though you may think that you have to do that to move quickly.

And so I guess I would say, just make sure before you say I don't have the bandwidth or the time to think about that and see whether or not the benefits of maybe taking a little bit of time and thought are going to outweigh sticking with what you have.

JT: I love that point, and I think that's something that I saw in New York City and what got me excited.

One of the projects I got to work on early in my career was the Cornell tech project, in which the Bloomberg administration had a long role in that. There's a lot of history there, but I think that's an example of how government can be a catalyst for not only creating it but bringing together all the parties needed to create a healthy.

Innovation ecosystem. So I love that point. So I don't want to take up too much of your time. I have two kinds of standard questions. I asked everyone before you.

CH: asked that, actually let me, just go for it. And the bill, let me just build on one, one thing that you said there. Cause I think Cornell Technion is an amazing example of first of all, Boy oh boy, did it work right?

And people thought it was nuts at the time it.

JT: It did work. I agree. It is more than work.

CH: Right? People asked, โ€œyou are putting out an RFP to do what? You want to build a technology university on Roosevelt Island which is in the middle of the East River? That's crazy.โ€ So one thing that, and I would say the Bloomberg administration, but this is Mike Bloomberg and this, gets at one of the things that you said what is it that prevents people from being innovative?

And it's not a lack of desire, but bottleneck decision-making. And you are only having a very few numbers of people who are empowered to make decisions and take risks that happen in government a lot. If you get to the right person in a situation like that, you may find that they want to do a ton of innovative stuff.

However, there's only a certain amount of throughput that you can get through a system like that. And so another suggestion I have is to follow the Bloomberg model. Hire good people to delegate to those people and trust them. And by the way, let them fail because they're only going to be willing to try new stuff.

If they know that the consequences of not being completely successful will not be that you have to look for a new job.

JT: That point touches on so many of the themes and trends I love to think about and why I enjoy getting to talk to people like you so much. Where can people stay up to date with you and Unqork?

CH: Absolutely. Let's see, Unqork is on LinkedIn, our CEO, Gary Holdman also is active there.

I'm also active on LinkedIn. And if anyone has any interests I will do a demo for anybody โ€” just reach out.

This was great. Good luck with everything you're doing. Thank you for what you're doing.


๐Ÿ’ป Why the no-code revolution is coming to local government

John Thomey

John Thomey is a founder of Urban Tech, a newsletter and podcast. Heโ€™s a graduate student at the University of Southern California, studying Public Policy and Urban Planning.

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