The revolution behind Apps.gov

The White House and federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra have been on a remarkable roll this year, showing America, and many in government, how a new generation of technology tools can change the way government does business.

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In the wake of Recovery.gov, Data.gov, and the IT Dashboard, Kundra and the General Services Administration launched the administration’s latest initiative this month: a new online applications store named Apps.gov.

Apps.gov certainly won’t earn the kind of fame Apple has gained with its app store. But in the world of government, Apps.gov could prove to be just as revolutionary.

For now, the new site offers a limited array of computing services — primarily Web-delivered business tools and social-media apps that ride on GSA's Schedule 70 procurement vehicle.

However, the real promise of Apps.gov is the passageway it is creating for federal agencies to eventually buy turnkey cloud computing services — and ultimately reduce information technology operating costs.

For all of its early limitations, Apps.gov has done several things right.

  • The site is designed from the perspective of government users rather than service providers.
  • Its services are grouped simply — business apps, productivity apps, cloud IT services and social-media apps — while the technology trappings of software, platform and infrastructure services remain behind the scenes, where they belong.
  • The selections are easy to explore and tempting to deploy, although users would benefit from more details.
  • The consumer-like, click-to-order process streamlines and automates a variety of time-consuming, repetitive processes.
  • By making computing services easier to discover and buy, Apps.gov also promotes wider adoption of productivity tools that federal workers might not have been aware of.

At the same time, the road Apps.gov is trying to pave will be long and steep. Apps.gov isn’t so much a new way to buy computing services as it is an alternative way to deploy applications. Consequently, adding new software and computing services to Apps.gov is much more complicated than many might appreciate.

Applications that are familiar to many federal workers will need to be substantially re-engineered to be deployed and hosted successfully on various multitenant public or private clouds. They will need to satisfy new security and user identity requirements. New licensing terms and agreements also must be resolved.

Kundra surely knows this. But by introducing fledgling sites such as Apps.gov into the public domain, he is effectively enacting user feedback to pull, rather than push, government agencies toward a new way to get IT done. Whether his approach will ultimately lower government IT costs is by no means certain. But Apps.gov is a smart way to start.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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