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Developing low-code apps for city services

To access city services, Oakland, Calif., residents used to have to visit various city offices or  agency-specific websites to get their questions answered. Now the city's OAK APPS portal  gives residents a one-stop shop for city services -- and offers officials a single view of each resident's app use that can be used to improve services delivery.

Once residents register through the OAK APPS portal, they can check zoning for specific areas, find out about required business permits, track rent increase complaints against landlords and file complaints against police officers using a set of apps.

“The Department of Housing had an application built that didn’t do all of the things that the department wanted [it] to do,” Oakland CIO Andrew “Pete” Peterson told GCN. “We wrote the entire application and included all of the features that they wanted for significantly less money.”

The platform offers users a single sign-on to all resident-facing apps, using basic information such as a resident's name, address, phone number and email address.

To develop the applications, Oakland officials in the Department of Information Technology are using a low-code development platform from OutSystems. The platform reduces the amount of time that it takes to build applications down to  three to four months from 12 to 18 months and creates a consistent user experience across all applications.

“The platform allows us to have the look and feel of each application the same so residents can understand how each application works even though the functionality may be different,” Peterson said. “This allows us to respond more quickly to the needs of our residents.”

The unified application framework will also “make it easier for the city to make decisions by having a historical perspective and also getting abilities to do analytics and data mining,” Peterson said.

One of the reasons that the IT department decided to use OutSystem’s development platform was the programmers' familiarity with building apps with .NET, which means that they understand how the apps are being built through the OutSystem’s drag-and-drop development  platform.

Other applications in the works include a volunteer management program where citizens can offer to help public works or emergency management operations and a housing assistance application where residents can track affordable housing opportunities in Oakland.

The goal is to create more effective city services through automating the way that residents can communicate with city departments. 

“We want to continue to transform city services,” Peterson said. “We provide a lot of services that are manual and human driven that can be automated and made accessible over the internet if they were transformed.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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