Agencies develop an "app"-titude for going mobile

Thursday - 11/3/2011, 5:24pm EDT

Gwynne Kostin, director of mobile, Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies, GSA

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By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

As more and more people access the Internet through mobile devices, agencies must face the challenge of adapting to this shift in the user interface.

Gwynne Kostin, director of mobile at the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies, spoke to In Depth with Francis Rose about how an agency can better monitor and evaluate its mobile strategy to make sure it's accomplishing its mission.

"Looking at the growth of mobile, 96 percent of the people between the ages of 18 and 24 own a mobile device," said Kostin. "So how do we actually start thinking about delivering services to those people where they are?"

According to Kostin, one of the toughest things regarding the shift to mobile is deciding which is the best way to reach your customers. It's a problem that's not specific to government.

"We're seeing all across industry that there's a big challenge on what's the best way to deliver," she said. "Do you deliver on a mobile-enabled website? Do you deliver specific to a mobile app that's delivered via a website? Or, do you deliver on an app that's a native app?"

Technical issues aside, an agency needs to approach its mobile strategy the same way it faces any other problem by going back to the basics.

"Take a look at your audience and see where they are, because, depending upon whom you are trying to reach, you're going to see demographic differences in what's the best way to reach them," Kostin said. "So, it's strategy, strategy, strategy. Start with your audience, try to identify what you're trying to help them accomplish and make sure it's tied to your mission."

As an example, Kostin pointed to the strategy employed by GobiernoUSA.gov, the Spanish-language version of USA.gov. "The Hispanic population was more apt to be using mobile devices in general, so that drove the strategy to take Gobierno and move it towards mobile devices," she said. "And then the decision was to make it into a Web-enabled site rather than a specific app. Again, it's because that was going to meet the needs of that audience."

Another back-to-the-basics consideration is assessing what you're already doing that can be part of the mobile strategy. "Agencies are really taking a look at how to take the content they have on their websites and making it more mobile and making it more friendly for a mobile audience," Kostin said. "That's what I'm seeing more of because agencies had those assets already. They were doing those levels of communication and service provision. How do you make that more available for people?"

Two agency websites that have found a level of success in their mobile strategies are MyTSA.gov and IRS.gov. "Both [are] examples of agencies that are using mobile apps to try to help people get information and off traffic from the call centers, because it's cheaper to have the information on a mobile device than have an agent call," Kostin said. "But that's one aspect of it. What we miss when we have a lot of these ROI discussions is how will mobile transform the delivery of services and information from government? What are some of the things that we are able to do now that we weren't able to do before?"

Kostin was optimistic that, despite some hurdles, agencies have enough creativity to meet the challenge of developing effective mobile strategies. "This is a great time for innovation in government and there are terrific innovators in government," Kostin said. "If you go to the apps gallery at USA.gov, you can see a lot of examples of different mobile websites and apps that people are envisioning."

One of her favorites is Science360 for iPad, which was developed by the National Science Foundation. "You can actually flip through different information about science," she said. "There's videos there and there's pictures there. Apple had featured it in their iTunes Store because it was such a terrific app."