As a fast growing mobile startup located a stone’s throw (and a metro ride) from the nation’s capital, I wanted to share some thoughts on the transformative effect mobile web apps will have on citizen engagement and agency missons.
First, a bit on my government experience. I was the User Interface Architect for Pay.gov from 2003-2005. Pay.gov is an eGovernment initiative managed by FMS and FRB-C to establish a centralized transaction gateway for federal agencies. It was one of the first SOA rollouts in the federal government and processes trillions of dollars in transactions each year. Following my work on on Pay.gov, I spent four years working on web enabling regulatory finance applications for NASD/FINRA.
In dealing with agencies large and small on the project, I saw the need for a unified content management systems for smaller agencies that were using limited free content creation capabilities Pay.gov offered to ‘hack together’ a free website for their bureau. Over the following years we’ve seen an ever growing services architecture on the backend, and cms platforms on the front end helping agencies connect with citizens.
A brief history of the world:
- 2000 – 2005 web enable applications.
- 2005 – 2010 hardware virtualization and getting apps into the ‘cloud,’ developing web services API layer.
- 2010 – 2015 convergence on all of the above with mobile.
With cloud computing, open government and ideas like Data.gov, we are awash in possibilities but still struggling for a big ‘aha’ moment tying it all together with mobile apps.
I see the first few years of post-iphone mobile as the ‘vanity app’ years. Up until this year, the focus has been ‘having a mobile app,’ or ‘mobile presence’ and not having the Flagship Apps that run agencies be mobile. With the enterprise clients we deal with every day, we feel the winds are changing because now usage data for mobile clearly points to accelerated trends outpacing desktop web. It’s happening with online advertising, bank sites, and digital content and streaming as well.
The need for a mobile first development exists for government right now. True citizen engagement depends on it.
If you look at the market demographics served by pre-paid cellphone companies, as well as the shift from feature phones to low end Android devices that serve these markets, it’s easy to predict that millions of American’s primary device for internet access will be a phone and not a desktop. In addition to enabling underserved populations, the transformative power of mobile webs is only now being considered for large enterprises, let alone, government agencies.
I believe the mobile browser is the third platform, providing the most accessible channel for citizens and most efficient to manage for government app owners. The reality is that the web stack is familiar and trusted, and in house development resources can be cross-trained to build HTML5 based mobile web apps. The browser is soon to become the next big OS.
So how will we get there?
We see ‘Hybrid Apps,’ that is, HTML5 code ‘wrapped’ in native code as the migration plan from native apps and ‘app stores’ to mobile web apps. One of our first project was a hybrid app for Intuit that exposed access to the corporate address book without storing the records on the device (think about the potential harm for a compromised device with local data stored). The idea for mobile apps is to provide a world class user experience without creating a world-class security problem.
It’s amazing to wonder what the future of government as we now it will be once the convergence of web apps, cloud api’s, and mobile devices takes shape over the next few years!