Govt. Agencies Must Rethink Mobile App Development - InformationWeek

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Government // Mobile & Wireless
09:30 AM
Brian Paget
Brian Paget

Govt. Agencies Must Rethink Mobile App Development

It's time for agencies to shift from costly manual app development to a build-once, deploy-anywhere model.

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Mobile apps have come a long way, but they are still built in much the same way that early web pages were -- that is, they still rely heavily on developers to build and design them, and to change their content. The development process remains manual, time-consuming, and costly.

As a result, government agencies seeking to develop citizen-facing and internal employee mobile apps are running into roadblocks:

  • It can be expensive to hire native app developers.
  • The cost of native app development can double or triple when the agency needs to target multiple mobile platforms (i.e., Apple iOS, Android, etc.).
  • The cost of maintaining apps often results in apps that solve an initial problem but that fail to adapt over time, and quickly lose their appeal.
  • If an agency wants to develop multiple apps, these problems snowball and mobile apps are often abandoned in favor of responsive websites.
  • App feedback comes via surveys or word of mouth, clouding app performance analysis.
  • Apps that are not kept up-to-date become stale, users drop off, and the app ceases to become an effective channel for interacting with citizens and employees.

These challenges are not restricted to government agencies. The commercial sector has historically grappled with similar problems, but it has generally had greater financial resources to apply toward solutions. Most government agencies don't have that luxury.

[The US government now offers more than 100 handy apps for mobile devices. Check out 6 Cool New Apps From Uncle Sam.]

Thanks to industry and government, mobile application development has become more efficient. Patterns, techniques, and technologies have evolved to solve development challenges and deliver a cost-effective way to target multiple platforms as well as build and maintain apps over time.

But as the public increasingly relies on apps for day-to-day services, it becomes more critical for government agencies to rapidly create and deploy mobile apps to meet the communications needs of citizens as well as agency employees.

The development challenges listed above -- along with the cost of supporting the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) agency workforce -- is holding back mobile app development. Agencies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to build out one or two apps -- costs that increase if the agency requires multi-platform, multi-device app deployment and support.

That's why agencies must rethink their mobile app development strategy and shift to a "build-once, deploy-anywhere" approach in which agencies can rapidly convert mobile-optimized Web pages into mobile apps that can be deployed across multiple platforms. Agencies that adhere to such a strategy will significantly reduce the cost of developing cross-platform apps and reduce the app development process to a matter of days.

Here are some points to help you implement a more efficient development strategy:

1. Evolve communications beyond the agency website.
Agencies are pouring resources into mobilizing their workforces, but a comprehensive mobile strategy must ensure that citizens can interact with key services via mobile apps -- whether they're filling out important health benefits forms on a smartphone, checking on the status of a pending case, uploading images of required documents, or accessing other government-provided benefits. This is increasingly important in low-income demographics where a smartphone may be the sole means of Internet connectivity.

While most agencies are good at keeping their websites up to date, there is no more direct and consistent way to communicate and provide access to up-to-date information than a mobile app. Given that mobile users spend 80% of their device time inside an app, agencies cannot afford to ignore this channel.

Nielsen's list of the top 10 smartphone apps of 2013 is instructive for how agencies should build apps. The apps on the list, which includes likely suspects Facebook, Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, Instagram, and Twitter, deliver relevant and constantly changing content to their users, updating dynamically as user needs evolve. Government needs to produce similar content-driven, constantly evolving, personally relevant apps as a cost-effective way to communicate. A build-once, deploy-anywhere development approach achieves this without requiring piles of cash.

2. Shift expensive, inefficient interactions to mobile apps.
Commercial entities prefer mobile channels because it costs them less to interact with customers, delivers higher value interactions, and allows them to keep a constant line of communication with their customers while avoiding email traps. And agencies can't afford to continue interacting through expensive channels such as telephone, snail mail, and in person.

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Brian Paget is the Technical Director for Content & Analytics at Adobe. He's is responsible for identifying, shaping and evangelizing solutions that optimize Web, Mobile, and Social interactions for Adobe's strategic Public Sector customers and partners. ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
5/8/2014 | 8:00:06 PM
Good points
Brian, you make some good points here. No question, agencies need to move beyond their current model for developing mobile apps and the sooner the better. Thanks for sharing this.
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