July 5, 2010

A Winning App Is Not Only an App Winner

In the government, just getting an “app winner” doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “winning app.” But that’s not stopping us “govies” from making progress!

As we all know, the Apple iStore has become hugely successful, with over 225,000 apps and the Android Market with almost 90,000 apps.

These marketplaces have grown fast and furiously because there is a simple and direct road from building the app to commercializing it. In the case of Apple, for example, I understand that the developer walks away with 70% of the revenue, Apple gets 30%, and the consumer can simply download the apps and start using it. Presto!

The government has attempted to capitalize on this apps development strategy by putting government data out there (i.e. data.gov) and letting the developers do their thing (i.e. create apps that are supposed to be useful to citizens).

In distinction to the private sector, the government doesn’t have a marketplace where developers simply make their apps “available” for use. While in the Apple store, any developer can post an app for use, in the government there is no open store like that.

To spur apps development, a number of government agencies have been hosting contests for best applications, but despite the fanfare, many do not get past the initial stage.

Government Technology Magazine (July 2010) in an article titled “Life After Apps” quotes Chris Vein, the CIO of San Francisco, who states that “just because it [an app] wins doesn’t mean the jurisdiction actually gets to use it.

Jay Nath, the innovation manager of San Francisco explains that “because applications submitted in the competitions don’t go through normal procurement channels, cities cannot use them as ‘official’ apps.”

Whether this changes at some point down the road, I do not know, but it seems like something for government procurement specialists to look at, because there may be an opportunity here to save money and serve taxpayers more effectively.

Even Washington, D.C., which became famous for its 2008 apps contest, is rethinking the “apps craze.” The city has discontinued its annual Apps for Democracy competition due to concerns over “sustainability and value of apps produced.” The District wants to look again at how to engage entrepreneurs to “solve core government problems.”

Nevertheless, there are signs that government interest in developing apps through contests remains strong. For example, “Apps for Army,” a contest for Army personnel, launched on March 1.

In a similar vein, the General Services Administration recently announced that they are using “ChallengePost” to announce contests and have the public suggest, discuss, and rate ideas. This is now being used for AppsForHealthyKids.com, a competition sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her important campaign to end childhood obesity.

Overall, there is a lot of innovation out there in government, and a strong desire to collaborate with the public. DC and San Francisco and other major cities as well as the federal government are taking the conversation about apps development to the next level in terms of governance best practices for getting value from them and ultimately bringing the apps to the users who need them.


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