Traditional App Development Stifles Government Innovation

To bolster government innovation, agencies must reduce the long lifecycle costs that drag them down.
Mobile Government: 10 Must-Have Smartphone Apps
Mobile Government: 10 Must-Have Smartphone Apps
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The need for innovation in government has never been greater. Unfortunately, collaboration across the federal government has fallen victim to the outmoded but continuing practice of developing and using individual applications for day-to-day work -- and is hampered further by looking at mobility as an add-on developed device-by-device.

Government innovation is suffering because energy that should be devoted to new uses for technology is instead funneled into large, long-lifecycle ERP and custom-development applications. By some estimates, operations and maintenance expenses consume upward of 70% of available IT budgets, even while agency O&M budgets are being reduced dramatically.

To improve innovation, government agencies must reduce the long lifecycle costs that drag them down, and reallocate their diminishing budgets toward the purchase of new, readily available technologies in the cloud and mobile realms.

It is a pointless practice for government agencies today to code and build single-use applications, or to integrate a dozen different products to deliver a single, specific functionality. Technology vendors now provide efficient platforms to provide such services without the need for coding, creating ready-to-run applications that work on all devices, whether in the cloud, on-premises, or both. The applications built on these new platforms offer simple, intuitive user interfaces to improve collaboration and decision-making, and support better service to internal and external agency customers.

[ Cost cutting is just one reason why agencies are moving toward agile software development techniques. Read Why Feds Are Embracing Agile. ]

Allowing this idea to take flight requires a paradigm shift in the way the federal government sees application development, particularly in opinions regarding security and mobility.

Government concerns about cyber security and security in general, while having some merit, are increasingly becoming a crutch to avoid real work in adopting applications with a mobile component. That is a mistake. Any application built today that does not have a mobile interface (or only calls for one in future requirements) will essentially be a legacy application the day it is deployed. Building mobility into an application after the fact costs more in the long run.

Rather than working in-house to develop applications and to introduce mobile capability device-by-device, government should allow vendors to solve the problem. Applications can and should be deployable on all mobile devices at once, without coding, and many vendors can offer that capability today.

By adopting that shift in attitude, agencies can be spared the expense of in-house development, and no longer need to engage system integrators (who would be very happy to create custom-coded individual apps forever).

The path forward has two lanes. Let vendors take on the responsibility for simplifying the applications that connect big data, the cloud, social media and mobility. Let government focus on the innovative services that arise from those new applications. That's a true investment in the long term.

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Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing