Mobile efforts forget mission


There are citizen services that translate well to mobile apps, but too often agencies appear to pursue mobile projects just for the sake of going mobile.

Let's remember mobile application development is not always cheap. For example, a Centers for Disease Control app contract awarded just this week was for $285,000--not an insignificant amount when agencies are under budget constraints and a hiring freeze.

A recent Citizens Against Government Waste issue brief highlights the problem, concluding that many government mobile apps are unnecessary and waste money, because they're too similar to apps already available commercially or duplicate the functions of other government apps.

But a third category may be a worthy addition to CAGW's report: apps that don't align with an agency's core mission.

This summer the Library of Congress unveiled its "Aesop's Fables" interactive book app, which is available on the web and for Android and iOS devices. Truth be told, the app is beautifully done. But was it really necessary?

Yes, LOC does provide an array of tools for teachers, perhaps most notably through its Primary Sources program that chronicles history and culture through the library's source documents. And, yes, students are required to understand fables and pull out their morals as part of schools' common core standards.

But it seems to me the mobile app strays a bit outside the lines of delivering one of LOC's core services. What's more, it could easily be provided by one of many educational publishing companies in the marketplace--as none of the information used in the app is unique to government.

Also in this category would be the Social Security Administration's "Baby Name Playroom" app. The app allows users to search the most popular baby name and browse names, by drawing on a dataset of American baby names dating back to 1880. True, the comprehensive name database is something only government can provide. But is providing a searchable, mobile-enabled name database part of SSA's core mission? Probably not.

When choosing where to spend their mobile development dollars, agencies would be best served considering not only what's already available--from federal agencies and elsewhere--but also considering their mission. - Molly