More notes on mobile apps and government

I still haven’t really got my head around mobile apps and their use for government services. However, James Coltham wrote up some excellent notes from a meeting up in Scotland on the subject recently:

There is definitely a groundswell of interest, though, as well as a growing demand from the public, making for interesting times for anyone involved in making sure their services are ready to go mobile.

I wrote a few bits down last August, and if I’m honest my position hasn’t much changed from:

  1. Platform neutral mobile friendly websites are probably a better bet in an age of austerity
  2. App development is probably a job for the private sector, but I’m not convinced there’s an actual market (ie would people pay for an app to access government services?)
  3. Any app that would work for more than one organisation will need open data in a common format which doesn’t yet exist, though it might do soon (LinkedGov, KnowledgeHub, etc)

Also, what are the sorts of things people will want to do with councils or other public services on their phones? I suppose there are two elements to this:

  • Those things you might want which are suited more to a mobile device than anything else: ie, I need this information now, and here. Bus timetables are a good example, perhaps, or something else that can use location data.
  • Everything else, but delivered to a phone because that either where the owner prefers to access information and services, or because it’s their only way of accessing information and services

I think the second point is probably key to winning the argument for whether government organisations should seriously explore delivery via mobile devices. If we come to a point where a lot of people don’t bother with PCs because their phones do want they need them to, then that’s where the focus of electronic delivery probably should be pointed.

In other words, what does e-government look like in a post-PC era?

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

2 thoughts on “More notes on mobile apps and government”

  1. I think that this is another area that Alphagov can come in – certainly the site interface, with its stripped down look and simplistic services seems like the platform neutral approach you mention in point 1. In my writeup (http://andrewbeeken.co.uk/2011/05/12/alpha-gov-uk/) I suggest that perhaps this is the direction that local authority websites are heading, where the authority merely provides data and service information in open formats to a central aggregator.

  2. Hi Dave,

    I have to agree with you, there are some issues with apps that we also need to consider in order to judge whether or not it makes sense to even design an app.

    An example might be an app which provides visitor accommodation data for a location…once the app is built and goes through the approval process – if takes time from then to update the app, should particular data sets need changing urgently…for instance, lets assume one of the accommodation providers burns down or is closed…not a major problem, but if it were a website with a mobile interface this information would be updated straight away as opposed to a delayed process going through the app store approval and then waiting for someone to check to see if the app has an update.

    So whilst a good proportion of apps serve a purpose and add value, it really depends on the type of data or information you want to present and then after that assess whether it is cost effective to do so instead of simply creating an accessible mobile version of the data.

    Thinking about it more, some apps work because they provide a single purpose rich content environment – train times would be an example of this in my view….it simply strips out all of the unnecessary content and provides you with real time data about your location, nearest station and status of that train etc. For a frequent traveller this I would assume would add value…For me personally who doesn’t travel that much a mobile web friendly version would suffice….

    also external factor around connectivity are also a driver in whether a mobile app would be worthwhile…interesting area that certainly needs more thinking applied to it.

    Carl

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