How to stop a zombie mobile app invasion

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How to stop a zombie mobile app invasion

Google “where to hide from zombies,” and you’ll find suggestions about how to preserve your life in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Even Cornell University researchers weighed in on the topic last year.

In reality, of course, government agencies needn't give much thought to a full-scale zombie assault. But they do need to pay attention to mobile app zombies, which have invaded all levels of government. These soulless undead may be lurking in the shadows of your agency without you even realizing it.

Where do mobile app zombies come from?

In the early days of app technology, government agencies frequently developed and deployed single-function native apps. As technology progressed, agencies adopted more-robust approaches that enabled apps to serve as platforms for multiple interactions or transactions. Agencies also began offering broader services through responsive design of their websites. Older, single-function apps that weren’t upgraded, lost traction and visibility in the app stores and were forgotten, becoming not-quite-living but not-quite-dead zombies.

Users rely heavily on mobile apps in their digital lives. ComScore’s 2015 U.S. Mobile App report, released last September, revealed that app use accounts for 54 percent of the time people spend with digital media. The report went on to say, however, that a small number of heavily used apps command most of the user engagement. Considering that there are some 1.5 million apps in the Apple store and 1.6 million in the Android store, it’s no wonder thousands of formerly trendy, but now rarely used, apps represent a true zombie invasion.

While not all native apps have lost their value to government, it’s clear there’s no point keeping old apps around -- or introducing new ones -- unless they support your agency’s core mission.

Are zombie apps creeping around your agency?

Before your agency can deal with its walking-dead apps, you must find out where they’re hiding. Make sure you have a complete log of and access to the apps your agency has created. Back in the day, when apps were the newest trend and only a handful of people knew how to create them, agencies often handed off these projects to third-party developers who also placed their creations in the app stores on the agencies’ behalf. If you followed this process in the early days of app development and don’t have back-end access to your apps, you may need to work directly with Apple or Android to get it.

After you’ve identified all of your agency’s apps:

Decide what threshold of citizen use is acceptable for each one. Apps with limited functionality and low constituent use might be worth killing off permanently.

Determine whether each app’s functionality still provides value to your agency and your customers. If it does, you may want to reanimate the app by investing in upgrades. Or you may decide that the app’s functionality might be more effectively delivered through your website or by being rolled into another, more full-service app.

Evaluate whether the cost to upgrade the app is worth the investment, based on the app’s potential for broad, long-term appeal to your constituents. In addition to costs to bring the app back to life, the greater an app’s functionality, the more your agency has to focus on keeping it up to date.

Take security into consideration. Like maintenance requirements, security risks rise as functionality increases. Your original native app may have provided only basic information that kept it from being of much interest to hackers. But an app becomes a greater target for misuse, security flaws and breaches if constituents can use it to conduct financial transactions or access their accounts online.

If you decide to breathe new life into a zombie app, plan to market it consistently to your constituents. By reminding them often about the services they can access and the transactions they can perform through the app, you’ll keep its heart beating strong.

In case you’re wondering, the best places to hide during a zombie attack are in an abandoned mine, a lighthouse or the Rocky Mountains. And while you won’t ever have to flee from these fictitious characters, real-life zombies may be hiding inside your agency. Armed with the information above, though, you’ll be empowered to bring them to life or put them out of their misery forever.

About the Author

Nolan Jones is director of e-government innovation at NIC.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 29, 2016 Jill Richards San Francisco

Nolan, so great to see you take up this issue. At Appthority, we've been tracking the incidence of Zombie Apps in our Mobile Threat Reports for a while and agree their presence poses a serious security risk to organizations. If interested, people can find our latest report on these and a host of other mobile app risks here: http://info.appthority.com/-q1-2016-mtr-download

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