Why Government Apps Are Totally Lame (And How to Fix It)

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    Recently, I checked out all the iOS apps available from my home state, Kentucky.  I wasn’t impressed.

    The parks system has a nice app — the same one available for other states, thanks to a private company. In fact, all of the apps I found were actually produced by private companies, and even so, they were pretty unimpressive. Tourism, for example, has collaborated on an app that basically gives you a .pdf of its main publication.

    If mobile apps are the Internet in small, Kentucky seems to be making the same mistakes I saw it make back in 2000, when it was building a web presence. There’s no clear strategy of prioritizing critical services first.

    Kentucky is not alone. GCN reports that most government agencies are focused so much on individual apps, they’re neglecting the bigger picture.

    In part, that’s a matter of making the right people — and their skills — available to the departments and divisions that most need them, according to Mark Headd, a tech evangelist at civic app development company Accela.

    “If I’m a government administrator, I’d much rather have my high-value resources deal with a call from a person who’s just lost food benefits than have them deal with a call about trash pickup Wednesday or Thursday,” Headd told GCN.

    But GCN pinpoints another, more troubling reason: Governments can’t integrate their back-end infrastructure with these apps.

    It’s a problem that IDC Government Insights Research Director Alan Webber says could be solved with CRM, because CRM would allow developers to integrate mobile apps with back-end systems.

    That may explain why enterprises are able to do so much more with mobile apps than government. Certainly, in my short perusing of Kentucky apps, the private apps are much more interactive and complex. That’s not just a function of talent, since clearly, the state was willing to partner with app design firms. No, integration and a lack of system support make much more sense to me, based on what I saw while at the state and what I’m seeing now. How else can you explain that my small-town bank’s mobile app lets me move money, and yet, the most I can do with the state apps is read an e-book or look at a list of farms?

    Certainly, I’d much prefer an app that lets me, say, pay state quarterly taxes or renew my car tags.

    Webber blames the lack of CRM on this shallow app deployment. CRM would enable more transactional features, such as checking records against a tax database or even scheduling a picnic shelter, GCN reports.

    The article also highlights two governments — the city of Riverside, California, and Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing — that are investing in CRM as a means of automating services. For both, the incentive was an onerous amount of service requests and the time it took to respond. For instance, in Colorado, the department received 5,000 calls a day from state residents checking their eligibility for Medicaid and other health services. Each took about 45 days to handle. Now, 60 percent of that workload is handled online, with about one-third of users accessing it through the mobile app.

    I don’t know what they spent, but that certainly sounds like a compelling business case. Plus, the CRM investment will pay off as governments and other organizations try to leverage Internet of Things data.

    This is also an important lesson for developers of all types: Integration matters, especially with mobile apps. And for apps to be truly useful, the integration needs to flow both ways.

    Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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