States, cities, pursue 'any-device' mobile platforms
California won’t be caught flat-footed as the mobile computing wave continues to roll through public sector agencies. That’s because its Office of Technology Services (OTS) formed an application development team dedicated to making state services more mobile friendly.
The team recently took on what is has become a necessity of mobile Web conversion: creating a way for agencies to build Web apps that are operable across a variety of mobile devices, including Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS or otherwise.
While some agencies, including the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, had the ability to develop websites for specific mobile devices, not all of them had the resources or software wherewithal to develop for multiple platforms.
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OTS’ solution was to create a “template” enabling agencies to rapidly build and deploy mobile apps. The template, or kit, was provided as a free download to government agencies and included application programming interfaces for apps that can run across all types of mobile devices.
The template has caught on, officials say, as both state and local government shops are putting it to use.
“The interesting thing about our mobile template is that it is being leveraged not only by state agencies in California but by other states as well as localities in California,” said Carlos Ramos, secretary of the California Technology Agency.
The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, Parks and Recreation, and Highway Patrol have all developed mobile versions of their websites using the template. By the end of 2011, about 50 agencies were expected to be using the mobile template to develop apps.
“It enabled rapid deployment, so we can deploy applications from three days to as little as three hours,” Ramos said.
In California, the fix is critical, as mobile is quickly becoming the dominant medium for those seeking information or transactions from government. The state’s Web portal, CA.gov, gets 8 million visits a month, while 93 percent of California adults have a mobile phone. In 2010, 77 percent of the state’s 24 million 911 calls were made from mobile phones.
Sharing expertise, software
In Arkansas, Utah and other state and local agencies across the country, IT managers are also looking for ways to create more universal mobile access to government by sharing expertise and piggybacking on open software developments.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, for example, police officers can now view “police points of interests” on Google Maps via their mobile devices. Clicking on a pin on the map, they get detailed information about arrests or outstanding warrants in real-time as well as access to other public safety databases.
Mobile applications for the program, known as Proactive Police Patrol Information (P3i), were developed through a collaboration with the University of Nebraska, according to Steve Henderson, CIO for the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County, Nebraska, who talked about preparing for mobile at the recent National Association of Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in October 2011.
In Arkansas, like in California, government officials also initially pursued a one-device, one-platform approach to mobile access. “When we first went mobile, we started developing for specific devices and that was killing us,” said Claire Bailey, CIO for the State of Arkansas, who also spoke at NASCIO.
Now Arkansas too has developed a system through which access to Arkansas.gov is optimized from any mobile device.
Today, Arkansas.gov can detect a mobile device and send it to a mobile-optimized site. Buttons and clickable areas were designed using mobile best practices. Arkansas also used one code base for the fullweb site as well as the mobile site, so changes made in one place will show up in both the desktop and mobile devices.
Arkansas first developed a mobile app for transparency connected with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which allowed residents to track where reinvestment money was being spent in their areas.
The state’s Game and Fish App was one of its first iPhone apps. The app, which has been downloaded 40,000 times, lets users check on season dates, bag limits and fish news, and apply for licenses. A personalized trophy case also lets users upload photos and trophy information, which can be shared on Facebook, the Arkansas Game and Fishing Commission site and e-mail.
Arkansas officials want to make sure they are developing applications that are meaningful for its citizens, Bailey said. For example, the governor has emphasized education and student access to financial aid. Consequently, the Arkansas Education Department developed YoUniversal, a portal optimized for mobile through which students can apply for state and lottery-funded scholarships instead of applying to each individual college.
All information, all the time
"Utah residents would also rather do business online,” according to state CIO Steven Fletcher, and the state is trying to make sure that they can do that via mobile technology. “We do 25 million transactions per year,” he said, including registering vehicles, paying taxes, applying for professional licenses or submitting job referrals.
To make sure applications run across all mobile platforms, the state uses HTML5, a language for presenting Web content built with the aim of running on smart phones and tablets. “So we won’t have to worry about particular devices,” he said.
Some of the mobile apps offered include Connect 2.0 for tablet computers that allows resident to merge Twitter feeds and social media contacts. Mobile 911 lets citizens see all of the emergency services within a location, such as phone numbers for hospitals, police stations, poison control centers or university security posts within a particular area.
“Our citizens are saying, ‘I want all information, all the time from any device, so give it to me,’” said Fletcher. “Now we have to figure out how to push it out in the most efficient way going forward."