With over half a million apps in iTunes, over 1 billion app downloads in Blackberry App World, & Amazon’s Appstore up and running, it’s hard to ignore the impact they’ve had on consumers. From Angry Birds and Uno to Handy Level and baby name generators, the app world has lit up countless mobile devices with their own button and branding.
And on GovLoop, as in the halls of any government building, there’s a buzz about bringing apps into the public sphere – government as a service, after all, needs to be accessible where the public already is! And government(s) absolutely should make information “plain language”, more “findable”, more accessible (I’m talking 508 & beyond here) – so those who seek such information can get it – from the ardent enthusiasts as well as the casual information seeker who brushes with the need or desire for such information.
But, even as I ponder if I need an app for my own program, I find myself asking – should we make an app for that? Or am I chasing cool points?
Don’t get me wrong – there’s lots of opportunities to facilitate information sharing with the public, industry, and amongst the workforce for the government. But I find myself wondering if some of the desire for government mobile application development is about “Keeping Up With The Jones'” and a new form of project creep for government IT. Worse still, I fear that some of the “app for that” desire comes with little more than a “Field of Dreams” business model behind it – build it, and they will come.
The recent Government Business Council report “If you build it, will they download?” identifies the results of a survey of federal managers regarding their opinions on the use of government mobile apps. Without seeing the methodology, it’s hard for me to weigh the survey results, other than federal employees download and use a whole lot more private apps than government ones – – (along with knowing I’ll be a ‘young manager’ until the age of 54, according to their survey population age breakout, so that’s a good thing!)
As a program manager, I find myself asking a few fundamental questions about mobile applications –
1. What business need will a mobile app fill for my program or project?
2. Can I meet the same business need by mobile optimization so mobility is platform agnostic?
3. How much funding will I need to divert away from my core program functions to support app based reach?
4. Is the gain worth the expense? Could I justify the expense to a taxpayer?
There are plenty of examples of ways government apps are useful, purposeful, and arguably needed. But I’m ambivalent on a generalized push for them.
What are your thoughts? Should there be something else to consider when thinking about apps for government?