Case Study – Government Mobile Apps Deployment Approaches

There are four primary approaches to mobile applications deployment and operations in government organizations today, which are:

  1. change agent,
  2. open data initiative,
  3. integrating portal app, and
  4. project based apps.

Change agent – as the phase implies – is deployment driven by a change agent in an organization. There is no over-arching strategy or operational process – although there is the desire to explore new technologies as a means to improve government services delivery. A change agent takes the lead do what they feel is necessary. A change agent will generally have budget authority and the blessing of their management chain.

The change agent project (aka pilot project, proof of concept) may be associated with a much larger existing project that has a well-defined end date at which point the larger project is complete and disappears from public visibility (e.g. election outreach). This “expiry” date allows the exploration to be less visible and provides an option to exit gracefully if needed.

The change agent approach has the benefits of: validation; managed risk; and initiating organizational change. Projects initiated by a change agent may result in more formal deployment approaches such as “integrating portal app” and “project based apps”.

Open data initiatives are often introduced as a means to encourage public development of meaningful mobile applications. These initiatives have yet to bear fruit and are unlikely to do so due to the effort to develop mobile applications of any significance and lack of a commercial business model to motivate the public to independently sustain meaningful mobile applications based on open data.

The integrating portal app approach is to build a single government portal application into which all other organizations contribute their components. As an example, this approach has been taken by the City of Regina. This approach has the benefits of: integrating diverse groups into a portal with a strong framework and brand; reducing costs for participating organizations; and maximizing user focused marketing and mobile app reach.

The project based apps approach is to build a series of stand-alone mobile applications which are integrated in branding and common feature elements, but which are campaign, department or function focused.  For example this approach has been taken by City of Calgary.  This approach has the benefits of: flexibly supporting both short-term and long-term project based communications requirements; fitting into existing organizational structures and budgeting processes; and allowing for adoption of leading edge capabilities as appropriate to the project.

Both City of Calgary and City of Regina entered the mobile applications space via a pilot. The pilot application was selected and funded based upon an approved outward facing communications project. Both pilot projects were initiated and managed by the cities’ communications and marketing groups.

In the case of City of Calgary the pilot was based upon the 2010 Election and associated voters outreach campaign. In the case of the City of Regina the pilot was based upon the 2011 construction season communications campaign. In both cases, the pilots were used to understand the internal workflow, branding requirements and citizen interest/appetite for mobile applications. In both cases the pilots were very successful and resulted in ongoing growth in scope, and role, of mobile applications in the municipal communications role.

The pilot application for City of Calgary was active for the duration of the 2010 Election outreach campaign, and was turned off following the end of the election. The mobile app received strong feedback from citizens and council.

The pilot application for the City of Regina has had its branding updated, new functionality and support for Android and Blackberry added. The mobile app received strong feedback from citizens and council.

The City of Calgary and the City of Regina both started out selecting the iPhone as the platform for their pilots. The iPhone was selected based upon its popularity and the proven appetite of iPhone users for mobile apps. Following the pilot, additional platforms were added based on citizen requests and to increase accessibility. In the case of City of Regina, the next update of the portal app included accessible versions for Android and Blackberry. In the case of the City of Calgary, follow-on applications were typically first delivered based on the iPhone platform and then followed with accessible versions for Android and Blackberry. The accessible versions were sometimes a sub-set of the iPhone platform functionality due to cost and platform capabilities constraints.

The City of Calgary also included a mobile optimized website version for parts of their new website. Their web CMS automatically detects and displays mobile optimized components of the main website when accessed by a supported mobile device. Specific pages of the mobile optimized website have been incorporated into the mobile apps deployed by the City of Calgary where appropriate.