Mobile apps: The race is on
Federal agencies are looking for ways to accelerate the process for getting applications developed and into the field
When it comes to mobile application development, the clock is always running.
That’s how federal users are likely to see it anyway. Like it or not, their expectations have been shaped by the commercial world, where time to market is a do-or-die competitive factor.
And it’s more than just a matter of show. The rapid pace of application development has translated into previously unimaginable innovation as vendors race to respond to users’ needs. It’s gotten to the point where “there’s an app for that” has become a cliché.
Federal agencies cannot hope to keep pace because they must balance the desire for agility with the demands of the enterprise and assess each app in terms of security, network performance and user productivity.
All the same, they need to find ways to accelerate the process for getting applications developed and into the field so that they can realize increasing gains in innovation and productivity.
That’s the thinking at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In August, NGA solicited industry input on how to improve its application development process. One idea under consideration is a rolling solicitation for mobile apps, according to the request for information that was released in August.
At present, the agency typically orders the development of apps on an as-needed basis — the same way that most agencies have been doing business for years.
“While this may meet an immediate need, the government recognizes that it may not be the most effective or efficient means to develop or acquire apps and may not capitalize on the most innovative technologies and ideas,” the RFI states.
Under the new strategy, the agency would identify a number of key functional or mission areas, such as disaster response, and have an open solicitation for 12 months, during which vendors could submit their apps for consideration.
If a vendor’s app is approved, the company would be paid based on user downloads. The agency also would have the option of giving some vendors incentive payments for receiving high user ratings, according to the RFI.
The Army also is looking to take a more commercial approach to getting apps. Earlier this year, Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence announced the launch of the Army Software Marketplace prototype.
“The apps marketplace is at the center of Army efforts to radically reduce the time to deliver applications across the force,” Lawrence said in a statement.
As part of the initiative, Army officials plan to create new submission and approval processes that make it possible for Army members, organizations and third-party developers to provide applications for Army-wide use, Lawrence said.
The Defense Department is taking an even broader perspective. As part of its Mobile Device Strategy, released in June, the department aims to revamp its approach to managing apps across their life cycle.
Like the Army, DOD is focused on certification processes, which address both security and performance requirements. DOD officials have realized that they need to streamline their standard application certification processes to provide for a more timely review of mobile apps.
But they are not stopping there. They also plan to scrutinize related processes for development, submission, management and compliance monitoring.
“DOD must provide an enterprise mobile application environment in alignment with industry best practices to support developers in quickly publishing mobile apps and users in quickly accessing those apps,” according to the strategy.
Organizations also might consider providing developers with a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP), said Stacy Crook, a senior analyst for mobile enterprise research programs at IDC, an IT consulting firm based in Framingham, Mass.
A MEAP makes it easier to develop an application once to run across multiple mobile platforms, which can accelerate the deployment process, Crook said.
Likewise, a mobile application management solution, which often ties into mobile device management or MEAP solutions, can provide many core management and security functions.