Has your city experienced mobile application sprawl? The City of Surrey did, and here’s how they defeated it!
Urban sprawl has long been considered a negative attribute in the growth of cities. The theory of urban sprawl goes that as cities grow outwards into the surrounding countryside, the restaurants and stores that made up the character of the city move out of the cities downtown core, following the citizens, leading to a lifeless downtown or worse still, urban decay.
The digital world is no different; as cities have expanded their digital footprint there has been a rapid, and sometimes unbridled, proliferation in Twitter accounts, open data feeds, YouTube video channels and mobile applications. Mobile application download and use rates have been an interesting bell weather for citizen engagement, and we have identified three key components required to create effective applications that sustain citizen engagement – timely content, mobile context and repeated advertising.
The urban decay equivalent in the digital world is mobile application abandonment. When cities don’t keep the content up-to-date in their mobile apps, users simply stop using the application and delete it from their device. Worse still the application that claims to have the latest information, but because it hasn’t been kept up to date on the most recent mobile operating system updates, cannot deliver the content because it is broken. Think of a pool schedule app that shows last years public swim times, or a road condition application with a construction alert map that won’t load. Nothing kills engagement faster than content that is out of date or that can’t stay up to date because of functional failures.
Second only to fresh content is making sure the content is useful in a mobile context. Often cities will take all the text information from their website and cram it into a mobile application, forgetting that citizens on mobile devices do not have the time or patience to navigate pages of text. They want to open a map and see if their morning commute is going to be slow. They want to see how far their bus is from them. They want to know where they can take their dog for a walk in their area. Delivering fresh, timely content in a mobile context keeps citizens engaged.
But information only spreads as fast as its advertised, and consistent advertising is required to highlight the availability of city applications. The one press launch and done approach to marketing mobile apps in cities doesn’t keep the public engaged. Advertising must remain consistent and sustained, but also embrace the principles of timeliness and mobile context. When done correctly it becomes a self-sustaining engine. A great example is transit advertising. Advertise the city application to people while they are sitting on a bus with nothing better to do than play with their smart phone. Making applications easy to find everywhere will allow citizens to unlock the potential of the app, and make it easy for the city to recognize the cost savings of deeper mobile engagement.
The City of Surrey was recently named one of the seven most intelligent cities in the world, and part of their overall civic engagement strategy was to eliminate mobile application sprawl. In the past, various departments had individually launched mobile applications with varying degrees of success. Some apps had great functionality but had been under-advertised, and under-utilized. They were also interested in mobilizing popular information and services that had value in a mobile context, such as parking information. Last year, Surrey embarked on a consolidation program, bringing all their applications into a single ‘My Surrey’ app creating a single launch point for all the cities mobile applications. By creating one app based on a sustainable and evergreen mobile application service framework, they were able to re-organize content streams to keep the application up-to-date and link to apps that were working fine, but were under-advertised.
By defeating mobile application sprawl, Surrey has set its sights on delivering a consolidated communications tool and have charted a plan for an effective return on investment for its mobile application program. As more services are mobilized, they will slide quickly into the pockets of its citizens. With analytics tied into showing citizen usage, problem areas in content design and delivery can be quickly identified and resolved. Tied into a ubiquitous advertising campaign, Surrey will be able to ensure it is not facing the digital version of urban decay anytime in the future.