Code for America and SF Open Data, a new way to think public service


Based in the heart of San Francisco, Code for America is a unique organization in its own right giving shape to the innovative concept of Civic Technologies. Code for America is based on the dynamic business world’s need to meet the challenges that municipalities will face. A nonprofit association, Code for America, was created in 2009 by the initiative of Jennifer Pahlka, a young and dynamic entrepreneur who graduated from Yale.

Its purpose? To harness the creativity of developers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and to improve the accessibility and quality of public services. The creation of mobile applications and web platforms will facilitate the lives of citizens with the development of tools used to manage and analyze public data.

The organization is therefore committed to stimulating initiatives in the field of web development which has been relegated to the private sector for a long time. With increased funding (including public funding, but also private foundations and companies like Google), Code for America has gradually morphed into a true citizen incubator. Young talent and startups are offered a place for reflection and dialogue with professionals, funding of up to $20,000, legal protection and easy access to partnerships in the public sphere.

This citizen solicitation is not trivial, because the number of people who will be living in urban areas by 2030 is estimated to be over five billion. In order to cope with this growing urbanization the integration of digital technologies is vital for public institutions in order to improve social life and adapt infrastructure to the challenges of the city of tomorrow. The initiative has in fact received the full support of the city of San Francisco. At the inauguration of Code forAmerica, Ed Lee, the Mayor of SF,  emphasized the role of Silicon Valley as the global center of  innovation:”The challenge now is to offer these disruptive technologies to Government and public services to make our institutions more effective and accountable, and make San Francisco the first “.

The structure of  Code for America is heavily based on partnerships between developers, contractors, entrepreuneurs, and municipalities. In 2011 and 2012, the cities of Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Austin, Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans volunteered. The association also sponsors hackathons, collective competitions in which professionals from various backgrounds – programmers, designers, planners or sociologists – work collaboratively to develop innovative applications. The most innovative lead to the creation of startups. When snowstorms hit Boston last year, the developers of Code for America, for example, created a mobile application that allowed concerned parents to monitor their children’s bus route  in real time. Even if ideas are sometimes simple, they are nonetheless effective: using the collective power of the web and goodwill citizens, cities can drastically reduce their operating costs, a welcome savings in these times of fiscal scarcity.  

What is the origin of the data used? Developed applications are generally based on the massive amounts of information stored by municipalities in recent decades. Digitized and used to develop web tools in the public’s interest, these data help optimize the management of cities, making them more reliable, responsive, efficient and economic. The second edition of the CaFFEET (CaliforniaFrance Forum on Energy EfficiencyTechnologies) conference, held on November 5th and 6th, 2012 and jointly organized by EDF, the scientific service of the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, and the University of Berkeley has deciphered the challenges and ambitions inherent in the city of tomorrow, underlining the importance of access to information in this paradigm. In this context, the city of San Francisco has free access to many public data on servers, viewable in multiple formats. Transportation, energy, buildings, socio-economic statistics: most of the major topics relating to the development and urban planning are also available. So that the various departments in the city follow this dynamic with common standards, Jay Nath was appointed as Director of Innovation. The department’s role is also to install new technology in the administration. The initiative, SF Open Data, works towards the construction and online availibility of robust  “citizens” databases. The goal is to stimulate innovation, improve access to information and to participate in the optimization of governmental structures.

In facilitating access to public data, the City of San Francisco has set four major goals: stimulate job creation through innovative startups, advocate the efficiency of institutional structures, enhance the sense of citizenship by engaging people on public issues and improve the relationship between the governer and the governed favoring a policy of transparency. In the medium term, the city of San Francisco wants sustainable development of Open Data, all while beginning to integrate private data of volonteer citizens.

The revolution of Open Data has started. It seems logical that the Silicon Valley would have a leading role in this conquest. Headquartered in San Francisco, Code for America, is committed to spreading to other U.S. cities, or to exporting the concept abroad, especially in Europe and France.


The Advent of Big data: a revolution?

The Advent of Big Data: a Revolution? by the Consulate of France in San Francisco

by Pierrick Bouffaron, Basile Bouquet, Thomas Deschamps – Consulate of France in San Francisco


It is difficult to deny the complexity of our modern society: globalization, continued growth of a population whose intrinsic needs are constantly increasing, and overall improvement in the standards of  living and education. In this evolutionary paradigm, social organizations (institutions, communities, businesses) are now forced to rely on innovative data analysis methods to stay responsive, adaptive, strong and accurate in carrying out their assigned tasks. The amount of data produced and processed by these actors has continuously increased. Even if this isn’t new information, the proliferation of interconnected devices and internet access to each and every moment makes the analysis of this heterogeneous information very complex. Thus, a company must be able to react quickly to shifting market needs, its deceptive signals and its evolution as well as its crises. The billions of data transmitted by consumers are a great source of information used to better target customer segments and industry trends (eg, being able to differentiate a buzz from a real market trend in the immediate future), but also to monitor the evolution of its competitors. In another context, governments are now heavily sollicited to provide quality information to the greatest number, all the while leveraging the services made ​​possible by the advent of “Information and Communication Technologies” (ICT) : welcome to the era of Big Data !

The concept of Big Data; The buzz in Silicon Valley


BigData.The expression was undoubtedly the slogan of 2011-2012 and will be the one of 2013 in the Silicon Valley. It was introduced by the research firm Gartner in 2008. It refers to the unprecedented increase in the volume of data exchanged in our societies, the heterogeneity of their nature and source. In this context, the capture, storage, retrieval, sharing, analysis and visualization of data should be reconsidered. Thus, since the explosion of telecommunications in the late 1990s, the amount of continuously exchanged information has never ceased to grow, exceeding all expectations. The massive development of the web (two billion Internet users worldwide in 2012) helped. The more recent advent of the “Internet of things” will greatly accentuate this trend (devices connected to telecommunication networks such as smartphones, computers, tablets, sensors of all kinds) Today, the merger of telecommunication networks with physical energy networks (electricity in particular) called “smart grids” opens the door to many applications: development of electric vehicles, connected electric appliances capable of demand response, renewable energy integration, interface and customer service, usage analysis, etc.

What challenges ?

The challenges of Big Data can be summarized in four V’s : Volume, Variety, Velocity and Visualization..

Volume: The challenge is daunting because the trend of “more and more data” has increased sharply due to the free fall in the cost of generic storage over the past several years, coupled with the tremendous boom in information technology and communication. Thus, Facebook hosts 40 billion photos while Walmart handles more than one million customer transactions per hour, in the United States,  feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes (250). By 2013 the annual amount of data transferred over the web is expected to reach 667 exabytes (260). [1] But where does BigData start ? Opinions differ. According to Mike Driscoll, CEO of Metamarkets,”if your data fits into an Excel spreadsheet, you have Small Data. If a MySQL database is sufficient, it is called Medium Data. However, if your data is spread over several servers or multiple machines, you’re there : the issues to be addressed fall within Big Data “[2]!. However, Cisco raises a major problem: the volume of data exchanged increases much faster than the capacity of the network that transmits them.

New online data storage solutions are starting to emerge. Companies like Amazon, AT & T, IBM, Google, Yahoo or AppNexus multiply Cloud Computing offers and relieve companies with capacity while offering them a range of associated services. Pike Research expects the revenue growth of cloud computing to continue at a rate of about 30% per year, with an increase in market value of 46 billion in 2009 to 210 billion by 2015. [3]

2. Variety: With more and more numerous data sources (Internet, connected devices, sensors, etc.), there is a strong heterogeneity in the data collected. The need to structure information is essential.

3. Velocity:The obligation to make prompt and appropriate decisions is a key to success (and economic survival!). The support tools based on the exploitation of data must be the most efficient and effective as possible.

4. The visualization: If the amount of input information available is enormous, the result of its output processing must be clear and concise otherwise it may not be used.

Two complementary challenges have appeal to the accessibility and availability of information. The data are often scattered in silos and they may be difficult to gather to have a clear, reliable and centralized vision. As good as the analysis algorithms are, a quantitative or qualitative deficiency of data can lead to incorrect or incomplete results.

What added value?

Organizations of all kinds have become aware of the value of the data they have, and how their use can differentiate them, enabling them to improve their knowledge or improve their structural efficiency. Through more and more sophisticated analysis tools, the central idea is the processing of billions of data to find relevant information that would then allow making the right decision. For example, the data generated by a consumer is a valuable marketing source for services which can then be customized in their advertising.

The reason for analyzing this data is not confined to the business world, where the focus on performance, competitiveness and market rank is the main driver. The data collected by government agencies is also at the heart of the phenomenon. In order to have transparency for its citizens, governments are encouraged to provide them with the information they hold. State agencies are very interested in this sharing, which stimulates at the same time creativity and innovation [4]. Citizens and businesses can use the available data to create new services (mobile, web applications)

Some examples:

– The digitalization of medicine could eventually help doctors diagnose and treat patients while optimizing costs . [5]

– Institutional and public data are increasingly used to improve the functional efficiency of cities: Cisco announced in early December its association with the Startup Streetline to address the management of parking in San Francisco in real time [6]

-.Regarding industrialists, General Electric announced in early December over a billion medium-term investments in order to provide Big Data solutions to its customers.

-.Imagine the amount of data needed for the construction of an Airbus A380 or a gas turbine power plant [7]

-Service-oriented thinking is a blossoming paradigm of information technology, in conjunction with many other disciplines such as operations, accounting and finance [8]

What market ?

Information is a strategic challenge of the first order, the collection and processing of data are subject to more investment. Market management and data analysis is currently estimated at more than $100 billion and growing at nearly 10% per year, or about twice as fast as the global software market. According to Gartner Research [9], BigData will be responsible for creating 4.4 million jobs in the ICT industry worldwide by 2015, and over 1.9 million in the United States . The theme is often cited as a priority by investors in Silicon Valley. [10] This economic potential is born from an unprecedented race towards the most innovative and effective management algorithms : crucibles of innovation and knowledge (including mathematics and computer science), the California universities like UC Berkeley [11] and Stanford address these challenges. In terms of data ownership and investment potential – particularly in research, majors such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are logically the main actors of BigData. In parallel, startups flourish by offering software, platforms and services for data management surfing this philosophy such as Platfora, Continuuity or Metamarkets  all based in the Silicon Valley. [12]

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing  and Big Data are two inseparable elements. Today, IBM, Google, Yahoo or AppNexus all offer cloud computing services. The NIST(National Institute of Standards and Technology) defines cloud computing as a model allowing practical network access and on demand access to a family of computer resources shared by all (eg, servers, networks, storage, applications etc..) that can be rapidly mobilized and released using minimal management effort or interaction with the service provider [13,14]. Cloud computing enables, among others, the development of management models and optimization, distribution services, (such as “Pay-as-you-go”),storage solutions and dynamic offerings. The availability of the resources is very elastic, since the available computing power and storage space is theoretically infinite. No Cloud without transit data, no Big Data without Cloud computing.


Even though BigData is often presented as a powerful tool, several slip ups have citizens and public authorities concerned : difficulty in managing privacy of personal information, issues of financial and strategic data security.  Cybersecurity issues accompany the development of the concept: the public, academic and industrial debates are multiplied. Pike Research  for example predicts that the computer security market estimated at $ 370 million in 2012 will reach 610 million by 2020. [15] These challenges aside, the potential offered by the availability and accessibility of this wealth of data – at a time when the world is going digital at a high speed – remains a tremendous asset to the modern world.


– [1] The Economist (27/02/2010). Data, data everywhere, a special report on managing information. Disponible sur:
– [2] J. Ebbert (12/2012). Define It – What Is Big Data?, Adexchanger.
– [3] Pike Research, Cloud Computing Energy Efficiency (2012).
– [4] Bulletin Electronique Etats-Unis #309 (20/11/2012). Code for America et SF Open Data, l’innovation au service des pouvoirs publics. Disponible sur :
– [5] B. Chaiken (2011). Mine Big Data to Advance Clinical Research Support, Docs Network. Disponible sur :
– [6] J. St. John (12/2012). Cisco, Streetline Team Up on Smart, Networked Parking, Greentech Media.
– [7] A. Stratigos (12/2012). General Electric to Leverage Big Data, Outsell.
– [8] H. Demirkan, R.J. Kauffman, J.A. Vayghan, H.-G. Fill, D. Karagiannis, P.P. Maglio (2008). Service-oriented technology and management: perspectives on research and practice for the coming decade, The Electronic Commerce Research and Applications Journal 7 [4] 356-376.
– [9] C. Pettey (21-25/10/2012). Gartner Forecasts Global Business Intelligence Market to Grow 9.7 Percent in 2011, Gartner Research, Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012, Orlando.
– [10] Intervention de Vinod Khosla, “Money Matters !”, AIMS Stanford, 11 Novembre 2012.
– [11] S. Yang (03/2012). Big grant for Big Data: NSF awards $10 million to harness vast quantities of data, UC Berkeley News Center.
– [12] B. Koehler (02/2012). 10 hot big data startups to watch this year, Beautiful Data.
– [13] P. Mell, T. Grance (2011). The NIST definition of cloud computing. Disponible sur:
– [14] Lohier, F. (28/10/2011) Le NIST livre enfin sa définition finale du Cloud Computing. BE Etats-Unis numéro 264. Disponible sur :
– [15] Pike Research. Industrial Control Systems Security (2012). Disponible sur :

Pierre Nougué

Pierre Nougue

Diplômé de l’Ecole de Management de Normandie (ESC Le Havre Caen), Pierre Nougué est marié, père de trois enfants ; il a créé et développé plusieurs entreprises dans le conseil en marketing, communication et production de contenus. Il est spécialisé des Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (TIC), ainsi que des programmes de Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Associé et membre du directoire de CRM Company Group, leader de la communication multicanal, cotée sur le marché Alternext depuis 2006, il quitte ses fonctions opérationnelles fin 2008, tout en restant l’un des actionnaires privés de référence.

Cofondateur et Vice-président des Journées de l’Entrepreneur en France en 2006, il est membre de la Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

En 2009, désireux de renforcer ses engagements dans l’univers du développement durable et des cleantechs, il devient producteur associé du film documentaire “Nous Resterons sur Terre”, dans lequel témoignent les Prix Nobel de la Paix Wangari Maathai, Mikhaïl Gorbatchev, le philosophe Edgar Morin et l’environnementaliste James Lovelock

Au-delà de ses engagement associatifs, il consacre dorénavant la totalité de son activité professionnelle à l’accompagnement vers la croissance des grands groupes, des acteurs publics et de startups françaises spécialisées dans le domaine des cleantechs – il cofonde à ce titre, avec Olivier Duverdier, en mars 2010, ECOSYS Group.