Making Mobile Gov Project

Making Mobile Gov was a three phase multi-media project created by the MobileGov Community of Practice to help federal agencies discover, discuss and design a citizen-centric path to mobile government services and information. Held during the summer 2011, this project served three strategic goals:

  • Educate—provide resources for mobile evangelists to help inform decision makers on (1) the criticality of investing in mobile gov to provide public services and (2) the opportunities in leveraging cross-agency strategies.
  • Develop Resources—create an online resource to share information, policies, technology, and other innovations for agencies to accelerate their mobile efforts.
  • Build Mobile Gov Community—take advantage of current tools—wikis, online discussion tools, social media—to leverage knowledge, experience, and tools across agency boundaries and to respond to rapid changes in technology and adoption. _Participants included mobile innovators across the federal government and was sponsored by GSA’s Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies Mobile Program.

_ _We have reprinted all materials from the project in this article (including videos which are at the bottom). For current information on mobile projects in the federal government, please join the MobileGov Community of Practice or contact community manager, Jacob Parcell._

This Making Mobile Gov Project is helping agencies work together to make a more open, innovative government to meet 21st century citizen expectations.

We are starting by helping you discover information and make the case for mobile in your agency.

Next, we want you to join in and discuss the challenges to mobile gov.

Third, we will have a dialogue with people in government, industry, nonprofits, and the general public on how to design this mobile future.

Discover

In 2010, the widespread and increasing use of mobile devices–96 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds own a cell phone– is a clear signal that people, and the federal included, need to start thinking about mobile in a different light. The federal government must act as a vehicle being able to deliver digital services and information always, anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Many agencies are already pushing the government’s adoption of consumer mobile services and we are calling this shift Mobile Gov.

The case for Mobile Gov is driven by:

  • the ubiquity of mobile use in the U.S.;
  • opportunities to use mobile to improve the efficiency of service delivery in government;
  • innovations in mobile that can propel new government services/service delivery; and
  • improved transparency through increased access to government data and information.

We live in a time when mobile technology is ubiquitous. A new survey shows that more preschoolers can use a mobile smartphone application than can tie their shoes and this is just one example of how the future will be mobile. One survey predicted that more people will access the internet via mobile than traditional desktops by 2015, however people are now predicting this will happen by 2013.

A diverse group of hands hold up various mobile devices, each displaying a person, in front of an American flag

Government agencies fit into this schema in that they can use mobile technologies to achieve their missions and better serve the American public. Mobile allows agencies to get information to—and potentially engage—the public efficiently and creatively while collaborating with other. Collaboration and opening up agency data stores can also provide efficiencies. For example, agencies combined data from four different data sets in the Product Recalls app. Alone, a single agency could not provide all the product, food, and vehicle recall data that people want, but by bringing the data together and making it available on mobile, useful and effective data is placed in the hands of consumers and other agencies.

Mobile isn’t just another delivery channel or a little computer, mobile opens up new ways for government to interact with the public. These advanced functions allow organizations to rethink services and allow interactions within the users’ environment. For instance, consumers can now use smartphones in stores to scan barcodes to comparison shop to find the best deals. Coffee purveyor Starbucks introduced a mobile payment application that was used by 3 million customers in two months.

However, mobile devices are not only used to make transactions in consumer markets, they are also already being used to innovate services within government as well. The Army is using QR codes, so that soldiers can scan and receive training support on their mobile devices, without lugging around manuals. Innovative mobile technology is also being used so that workers can track and save their wage hours with the Department of Labor’s Timesheet. And veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) can help manage the stresses of daily life with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ PTSD Coach. These are only a few of the plethora of ways mobile is ingeniously changing government and how it is run for the future.

Mobile Gov creates opportunities to bridge the digital divide, increase transparency, and open government data to the public.

A report on collaboration in a local community found that transparency is associated with residents’ personal feelings of empowerment. Put simply, people who think that their government delivers services and shares information believe they can have an impact on government. This suggests that good, open mobile products can build trust and engagement between citizens and the government.Transparency efforts have made hundreds of thousands of public government datasets available on Data.gov for innovative use by the private sector. This opens up endless possibilities for mobile development that private and public sectors alike can build on and help move information to citizens efficiently and effectively.

This report was developed in collaboration with the Mobile Gov Community of Practice—a cross-government, multidisciplinary community dedicated to creating open systems and technical assistance tools to build a public-centric path to government anytime, anywhere. For more information, contact community manager Jacob Parcell via email.

Discuss

Mobile Strategy
Strategy sketches above a mobile tablet

Sound mobile strategy is a necessity for agencies to create efficient, innovative, expectation meeting, transparent, citizen-facing mobile products.The agencies we talked to encountered these scenarios and concerns when they developed (or didn’t develop) mobile strategies.

Apps with the business need of “we want to have one, too” do not always align with agency mission and/or the needs of the public. The antithesis of strategy also includes agencies creating a number of one-off mobile projects or offices trying to go-it-alone to produce mobile apps, whether or not they make sense for either the program or the public.

Once a mobile product is developed, mobile efforts need to be expanded. Sometimes this is due to the continually innovating industry (devices, operating systems, updates or just plain maintenance) and at other times it’s due to lack of a well thought out strategy.

An important aspect of strategy is measuring mobile project effectiveness, outcomes and value. A focus on the number of application downloads does not address these clearly, so some agencies are left struggling to find valid value measures for mobile projects.

When building a strategy, some agencies look at the not so common users along with the common users. Looking at audience specifics–like region, education, language, age, etc.–and how they use mobile is important.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile Budget

Mobile projects are subject to available budget. Efforts can be delayed, cut-back or stopped without proper funding. The agencies we spoke to encountered these scenarios and concerns regarding budget.

Agencies are challenged to expand and improve their mobile products to communicate during emergencies, monitor events and update with real-time, relevant information while still maintaining call center and website operations.

Many agencies have to make hard decisions about the best use of limited IT research and development dollars with mobile expansion and innovation competing with other important efforts.

Once an agency secures funding for a mobile project, there is an ongoing need for resources to maintain and enhance it. Ongoing funding is needed for storage and access to data used in the mobile app as well as to staff a product team or manager.

Some mobile projects can have significant start-up and increased volume costs. For instance, some agencies are unable to create simple cell phone text messaging (SMS) programs to reach highly-mobile low-income audiences because of high per-message costs.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile Platforms

Agencies generally choose mobile platforms once they secure resources and plot a mobile strategy. The platforms decision does not have to fall between mobile Web and a number of native apps platforms. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns.

A number of agencies favor mobile Web because of the complexity of choice when considering a native app.

Other agencies wanting to take advantage of the features of the device and to provide a richer experience for users have opted to create native apps.

Some agencies that have approved apps are targeting mobile Web first. If the requirements for a particular app cannot be met by a mobile website, the agency requires that the app be developed for all platforms – iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows. Some agencies take a dual strategy where they create a native app on one platform and a “mobile Web” version for other platforms.

Staff at one agency requiring that the native apps be developed on multiple platforms was concerned that they might appear to favor one platform over another if they selected one.

A few agencies have looked to platform market share when making decisions about which platforms to use. This has been a moving target, as market share has been changing rapidly. One agency said it was not going to develop for devices that its audience did not use.

The challenge with multiple platform development is that the agency has to duplicate functionality, and the cost, of multiple platforms. One agency estimated once you have completed an app on one platform, it only counts for 20 percent of work on the next platform. Also, agencies have to keep abreast of maintenance on multiple platforms.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile projects – like everything we do – need to comply with federal laws and regulations. The agencies we spoke to encountered these scenarios and concerns when faced with compliance and legal policies.

For many agencies, not knowing or having access to all the compliance knowledge and requirements is the key issue.

One agency was unable to sign one app developer’s agreement for two years, despite the fact that other agencies have successfully developed and deployed those apps that have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

Some agencies are being advised that if they develop for one platform, they need to develop for all platforms in order to avoid appearance of endorsement. (See also Platform.)

Some agencies have had legal and compliance teams discourage them from developing mobile services because there are no precedents.

Since these technologies are new, agencies are still developing proper accessibility standards and protocols for mobile projects because there is very little mobile accessibility expertise.

Some agencies are applying directives and laws like the President’s memo on transparency and open government, the executive order on customer service, and even recent legislation on plain language.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile Security

Mobile projects – like everything we do – need to comply with an agency’s security requirements. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns regarding mobile security.

Government IT security teams need more expertise about the risks associated with mobile products as a way to better manage these risks. Because of security concerns, one agency was not allowed to put a link to its agency-built app on the agency’s own website.

Agencies need to develop security standards for all device platforms. One agency said that only one mobile platform was allowed because IT services said other platforms did not meet federal security standards.

New security protocols need to be considered for mobile projects that collect new data sets. An agency developing a native app allowing the public to submit photographs and geo-location data incorporated safeguards to protect agency data systems.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile Market

While some question whether government should be building apps at all – that this is a function of the private sector – others are wondering where the government apps are. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns about the mobile market.

Some agencies’ efforts have been chilled by concerns that they are competing with private industry, stopping them from creating mobile products using their own agency data.

Many agencies are exploring contests, such as the ones hosted on Challenge.gov, to encourage the use of data on data.govand to bridge the private/public development divide.

One agency does market research on apps in their mission area to help decide mobile project direction. If the private sector has already met a mission need, the agency focuses resources on another area – like improving the mobile Web experience or increasing data availability.

Many agencies expressed concern that they are building mobile products but do not have a good plan to promote them to target audiences.

Also, some simple promotion efforts are blocked because of inexperience. Security concerns were the reason one agency did not provide a link to an agency app on its website.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Privacy and Identity Management
The American flag as a fingerprint

Agencies have to be vigilant with privacy and identity management on mobile products–especially with the availability of location and personal data on these devices. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns regarding privacy and identity management.

Many agencies starting mobile product planning encounter major challenges because they lack expertise surrounding privacy and identity management issues. Many times potential mobile products are shut down before any privacy evaluation or risk assessment can be completed.

Protecting users requires going the distance research-wise. Agencies are still learning how to determine what information is collected by app stores, how such information may be used, and whether such information may be used for behavioral advertising or other commercial purposes.

Agencies find that new mobile products that collect new information can create new systems of records. These systems of records need to be evaluated to assess whether or not they are collecting personally identifiable information (PII) and how that data is stored and used.

Agencies have to write clear privacy agreements and design understandable opt in or opt out agreements that they do not confuse users

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Mobile Technical Expertise

From optimizing data to mobile design, new technical expertise is needed for mobile development, whether it comes in-house or from industry. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns regarding mobile technical expertise.

Many agencies rely on private developers for technical expertise because they do not have the level of experience necessary to build mobile products.

Agencies are challenged to find contractors with specific expertise in mobile, especially using current IT contract vehicles, and even more so across devices and platforms.

Cross-development tools are not always the answer for developing on a number of mobile platforms. One agency found that these tools do not always accelerate development for all platforms, that one platform saved about 20% of the effort for the next one.

While expanding current projects to mobile is popular, using existing technology and systems to adapt to mobile is not always the easiest and quickest fix. Mobile is not just a little website. Content and service delivery can be significantly different from web technology.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Data & Infrastructure Standards

Data and infrastructure standards can help agencies improve the quality and development speed of mobile products. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns regarding data and infrastructure standards.

Agencies want consistent data standards. Only a few agencies have built infrastructure to ensure consistent, efficient data design and have made data available for 3rd party use for all they will develop.

Agencies said there are many examples of apps that “could” be if the ownership and availability issues were resolved.

Some agencies are concerned about a lack of standard branding of agency apps.

Some agencies have simplified data consumption for developers by submitting data to sites like Data.gov (link to data.gov) and have found it brings down the barriers because it creates a single open Application Programming Interface (API) for developers.

One agency worked to lower the barrier to entry for developers by focusing on simplifying and documenting its REST API and SDKs.

Some agency data stewards have expressed frustrations that they do not have the resources to manage their data and they have conflicting priorities for proper publication of data.

Please scroll to the end to see accompanying video.

Intergovernmental Sharing

Government agencies have hurdles to leveraging their experiences, policies, technologies, code, and lessons learned to assist each other for making mobile gov. The agencies we spoke to encountered a number of scenarios and concerns regarding intergovernmental sharing.

Some agencies said due to communications challenges they are unaware of mobile projects in their own agencies, let alone across the entire federal government.

Many agencies expressed the desire to work with other agencies to share experiences, build common infrastructure, create reusable data modules and to potentially share funding to create shared government mobile resources. The creation of “uber-apps” would demand it.

Some agencies stated that sharing with state, local and tribal governments was needed for some apps due to overlapping missions.

Clear synergies across agencies were identified at early meetings of mobile practitioners simply by having the innovators in a common space.

Discussion Videos on the 10 Challenges to MobileGov

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