The average US consumer is spending up to 5 hours per day on mobile devices, and 92% of that time is spent using an app.

Average user spends 4.6 hours per day using mobile apps! #civictech Click To Tweet

Many local governments see these stats and figure that they must deploy an app to stay current with tech trends. The logic is sound, but the approach is often flawed. You need a mobile app strategy, or you’re building a digital future without any guidance. The result is often that organizations are setting themselves up for app sprawl.

Putting an End to App Sprawl

Usually, more is better. That’s not the case for mobile apps.

Note: Let’s get something thing straight. We’re not here to bash anyone, and New York City is definitely an innovator and leader in digital government services.

When it comes to New York City and their approach to mobile, unfortunately, they’ve entered the dreaded App Sprawl. Go to NYC.gov and you’ll be met with an offering of 23 different apps for citizens to download.

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That’s a lot of apps, and that’s a lot of space you need on your phone. The average resident is not going to download 23 different apps to engage with their city.

In 2015, New York City decided to enhance the digital capabilities of NYC to provide easier connections to government and community services and information. They created a 354-page strategic plan of action to help its various agencies understand the expectations and actions they needed to take to improve their city’s digital capabilities. In the strategic plan, it said:

“Today, too much information is presented by individual agencies, which means residents must know the City’s organizational structure in order to discover relevant opportunities.”

And the same is true in so many cities, we see it all the time.

So the city should realize that residents aren’t going to search, discover all 23 apps, and download each separately.

Building Without a Guide

Each time you decide to launch a new stand-alone app, you must build it, deploy it, and market it. Each step in this process can be done in-house or through a vendor.

But the final step, marketing, is necessary for any new citizen-facing initiative, and if you choose to build new features into your existing app, then you can harness an app’s existing user base.

By shifting away from standalone apps to a single mobile app framework, you can be agile in your approach to pushing out services via mobile. The ability to test, measure, and iterate quickly is the best approach to manage development.

If you’re not taking a leadership position toward a mobile app approach, your organization will end up with a disjointed experience for citizens and workers.

The exact same approach happened with the web and the outcome was disastrous. In the early days of local government websites, it was common to see a free-for-all approach to creating URLs, building page layouts, and adding content. The result was messy websites that were difficult for the public to navigate.

The same path can happen for organizations lacking the necessary leadership to create a long-term mobile strategy. We hope history won’t repeat itself.

Creating a Mobile Strategy

Bringing digital services to communities requires significant planning and can be a tedious road if you have to go it alone. It’s important to create a digital plan, especially one that includes a mobile app strategy. Here are a few important questions to cover in your strategy:

1) How should new services on mobile be considered and evaluated?

More and more services for citizens are going to be available on mobile, including those you haven’t even considered today. If you don’t have a framework to consider these ideas, then a standard process won’t be followed.

2) Who has the authority to approve new services on mobile, who else needs to be involved?

Do you currently have an approval process? If not, you should think about who should be involved from a technology perspective and which business unit owners will be involved.

Collaborate with other departments within your organization, talk to citizens and understand their needs, build a platform that citizens want to use. Too often, one group or other is not consulted and it leads to poor outcomes.

3) What is the process to build or buy new mobile functionality?

As IT moves towards more frameworks, we’ve entered a world where the build vs. buy decision is one that has become more nuanced. If you purchase a framework, with a Mobile CMS, it can be possible to add new functionality using internal staff expertise.

4) How will each new feature be managed?

Hopefully, the management of product is minimal, but there should be a clear delineation of duties of who is responsible for the technology aspect, who is responsible for managing interactions with citizens, and who is responsible for promoting the service.

Delivering digital services to citizens is key to your organization pushing forward in the digital transformation, but just putting a mobile app out “because we need to” isn’t going to cut it!

Wrap Up

In order to deliver mobile services, local government needs to reshape the way they approach the process, including creating a mobile app strategy guide. This digital strategy is not a “set it and forget it” scenario, it is a living breathing plan to continually evolve.

Don’t wait to play catch-up. A digital city provides benefits to residents, visitors, and businesses by increasing civic engagement, improving opportunities for businesses to succeed and scale, facilitating community development, and contributing to the creation of employment opportunities and the economic health of the city.

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