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Get In The Game - How To Engage App Developers In Local Gov

Wildfires, there's an app for that.Potholes, there's an app for that. Rabid raccoons, there's an app for that. Apps are everywhere these day, even in government. But for many small app developers breaking into the government marketplace is difficult.

Minh Tran is independent mobile app developer, that developedFix311, a mobile app used for roadway damage alerts that has been adopted by a number of jurisdictions around the country.

Tran told me during GovLoop's State and Local Spotlight interview that small app developers are struggling to deal with the government's contracting model, because the government much at a much slower pace.


"Timing is the big issue. The RFP process is very long. There was one government administration that I worked with, where I sat in on the meeting in February, a mandatory meeting, where they said specifically in this meeting that they were in a rush. They had to get this done. They needed responses as fast as possible. Time was of the essence. Then, during the RFP process they extended the timeline. Then they extended it again. They finally made their decision in December. It took them 10 months to make a decision on a vendor. For app developers to wait around that long is frustrating, but also, what is proposed in February is kinda outdated by December. Technology is always emerging so government’s pace is challenging for an app developer," said Tran.

Tran dealt with local governments during the procurement process of his application Fix311. The app empowers citizens to report problems to their municipals and offers bi-directional mass notification alerts during a major event.

"I am still learning about how to work with government. Fix311 is a civic service request application, that means the app is a way for citizens to connect with the government to report problems. It can work at the local, county and state level. Fix311 also allows the government to send alerts to the citizens. It is a two-way communication where the citizen can send reports in or receive important alerts from the government," said Tran.

What type of alerts?

"Flooding, outages, really any alert that the government needs to send to the citizen. For instance, if you have a power outage and a person can not log onto a computer to find out what is going on, they can’t watch TV, a mobile app would be useful in this scenario," said Tran.

  1. Don’t underestimate the little guy

    1. “The large companies get their business based on experience. They have no reason to innovate. A smaller company that wants to do business has to figure out a way to beat out these larger companies, the only way to do that is to innovate. Smaller companies are hungrier and they have a reason to build better products,” said Tran.

  2. Try it before you buy it

    1. “A lot of big companies are good at making presentations. At these presentations the product may work very well, but if you put the products in your hands and try them, you may find out that it does not work as well as it appears on screen. On screen the app is in a controlled environment. Out in the wild you have many different devices on different operating systems. You should not believe what you see on screen. You should test the products in your hands,” said Tran.

  3. Look at goals not flashy features

    1. “Sometimes there are a lot of features that the big companies may try to sell. They are more of a distraction. The Administration may think they might need that feature. They get sold on the feature, even though that feature might not even be that useful to them,” said Tran.

  4. Considering trending tech over historical tech

    1. “The government’s intention is to accommodate the masses. You have to look at the overall app industry. Look at where the majority of citizens are. How many are using the iPhone, Android and Blackberry? You don’t want to invest in a technology that is dying, like the Blackberry. If you are going to invest a lot of money and then in a year or two that phone won’t be around, will you have wasted that money,” said Tran.

    2. “The other problems is that government’s try to hold onto legacy programs. For example, if we build a new CRM system that is far superior than what they are using now, but they still want us to integrate our system with their old and outdated system. The integration causes complexity because now you have more glitches and bugs to worry about. Holding on to old technology is not always the best idea, sometimes you have to change,” said Tran.

“Each city and county has their own way of doing RFP’s, that can make it very difficult for small app developers to see out government contracts. Some municipalities want flash drives, some want CD’s and their forms are all different. It is a challenge for the vendor to keep track of these things.

Tran recommends that governments should stay out of the app development business. Instead government he said, “Should consider rebranding COTS apps rather than building their own customized apps. Having a custom App would require extensive resources and frequent government involvement to keep the App up to date. The App technology changes at breakneck speed.”

Tran is currently working on the launch of an app that calls 911 while simultaneously notifying family members through text messages that include Google Maps GPS coordinates. The mobile app, 911 Help SMS, is aimed to be a free and simple solution to emergency situations and possibly life saving with its simple quick dial button. Useful features of the app include its Nearby tab that offers a directory of non-emergency services in the area. Police and fire stations, hospitals, auto repair shops, towing companies, motels and more are listed with their location and phone number.

If you enjoyed our GovLoop's State and and Local Spotlight interview, you can more interviews under keyword "emily's corner."

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