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GCN : June 2015
were having to do too much,” he said. In addition, agencies should make sure they’ve incorporated approaches already used elsewhere to design simi- lar tools. “Whatever field you’re developing your app for, you need to understand the science and research of that field and make sure you’re building on top of that foundation of understanding that’s been accumulated over time,” said Joseph South, deputy director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology. He added that it’s often a good idea to create what is called a minimum vi- able product — “a small product that minimally meets the requirements — and then get it in the hands of users so they can give you feedback that helps you iterate your design in ways that will be most useful to them.” APPS IN THE ENTERPRISE Developing a responsive app doesn’t stop with design. It also means paying attention to how people interact with an agency’s full-service infrastructure over time. “There’s a lot of focus going on about ‘Is this app easy to use?’ ‘Are people hap- py with the way it works?’” said Mark Headd, technical evangelist at Accela, a firm that helps developers create civic apps. “That’s important, but as govern- ments start to use more of these apps, we need to understand how it affects a customer service agent in a department having to answer a caller’s question. That’s a harder problem to solve.” He said the solution involves making sure highly skilled employees are avail- able to help the people who really need it. “If I’m a government administrator, I’d much rather have my high-value re- source deal with a call from a person who’s just lost their food benefits than have them deal with a call about trash pickup Wednesday or Thursday,” he said. By addressing basic requests or questions, mobile apps can help agen- cies make the best use of costlier staff resources, he said. Those decisions also depend on maintaining an ongoing analysis of traffic coming into the agency’s call center. “What I think governments are not doing enough of is looking across the enterprise and asking, ‘Are we pushing these things to the top because we know people are calling and we want to allow them to self-serve more efficiently?’” Headd said. BACK-END CRM However, analytics about the perfor- mance of government apps and call centers often require a level of back-end systems integration that not all agencies possess, analysts say. “Government has put some good apps out there,” said Alan Webber, a research director at IDC Government Insights. “The problem is that there is seldom a back-end system to support the applica- tions. What’s missing are the customer relationship management-type systems that will allow them to actually manage the application.” The lack of CRM stands in the way of offering apps with more transactional features, such as those that enable peo- ple to schedule a picnic area at a local park or check a person’s name and ad- dress against a tax database, he said. Some governments are bridging the gap, however. Riverside, Calif., for exam- ple, operates a set of back-end systems using Oracle’s Siebel CRM tool, the com- pany’s SPL customer-care software and permitting system Permits Plus. Together they “eliminate a lot of paperwork and save a lot of time,” Riverside’s Chief In- novation Officer Lea Deesing said. Even so, the city wants to streamline its app offerings even further. Riverside currently has seven public-facing 311 apps and is considering consolidating them to better manage 311 traffic and stay on top of the inevitable codebase updates. MOBILE Lantern Live, Energy Department Colorado PEAK, Department of Health Care Policy and Financing 0615gcn_016-021.indd 20 6/3/15 9:07 AM