The key to a successful mobile strategy isn’t just the technology an agency adopts, it’s understanding the users and how their behaviors are changing.
That is one piece of advice from Jacob Parcell, manager of mobile programs in the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, during a webinar offered by FedInsider Jan. 14. He is responsible for getting agencies to talk to each other about their work on mobile issues, from technology to apps, and sharing what they have found will work – and what doesn’t work.
“The user in mobile is changing,” Parcell said. “One of my favorite stories is about my friends with a 3-year-old. [They] caught their son asking Siri for cookies.” (Siri recommended several cookie recipes, he said.) The point of the story is that users of mobile technology are getting immersed in it at younger and younger ages, he said, and using mobile devices such as smart phones more than laptop or desktop computers.
Parcell suggested that agencies should think about their mobile programs based on a data-driven strategy.
“The reason the data-driven approach is important is the future of the mobile user,” Parcell said. “We think of it as mobile users, native applications, mobile web design, the Internet of Things. We’re starting to see the development of apps around the Internet of Things, [such as] cars, wearables.” He pointed out that data will remain the constant even as the technology continues to evolve.
Cathal McGloin, Red Hat’s Vice President, Mobile Platforms, joined Parcell in the webinar and observed that agencies have to find ways for their mobile strategies to mesh with legacy systems.
“While mobile might be how we interact, legacy systems hold the data – so it’s the new IT world working with the old IT world,” he said. It’s “two-track IT – agility versus stability. Older systems provide the stability, the new is more agile. In this new world these two tracks have to live and work together.”
McGloin identified several key considerations for agencies to consider as they develop their mobile solutions. For instance, mobility fits well with the emergence of the cloud as the platform of choice. “We don’t think of a mobile app as having every bit of functionality, but [connected] through the cloud to allow caching and performance,” he said, with “80% of the services supporting the app in the cloud, the [balance] on the device.”
App development is an area where many agencies are putting their efforts, but it also is where innovations are rapidly changing the development process.
The industry “is coming up with new and faster ways to do apps, [like] quickly building a drag-and-drop app tool, with no coding necessary,” McGloin said. He described one situation in the United Kingdom, where railway lines had suffered serious flooding; Red Hat was able to develop an app within hours using drag-and-drop tools, distribute it to about 4,000 people in the field, and include photo and geolocation tag capabilities, so that within a day the agency could start prioritizing repairs.
Another area of concern in mobility will continue to be security, McGloin said. “Think about things like data encryption as it moves from a public network, how to containerize on the phone so if it gets stolen no data is lost.”
Security is one area of concern that cloud and mobility have in common, but McGloin said moving to the cloud doesn’t have to feed those worries. The concept of a “hybrid cloud” can include keeping sensitive information on-premise, with the private portion of the cloud staying behind the organization’s firewall.
Parcell suggested that agencies interested in learning more about the apps being developed and the tools being used should visit www.digitalgov.gov, where government visitors can see what apps have been created, find tools to create apps for their own needs, crowd-source testing of new apps, and generally find everything mobile-related.