How not to make a case for an app


An effort to get permission to develop an app led to a solid lesson learned for Theron Jackson, program manager in the public affairs office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The lesson: Assume nothing.

Jackson and his colleague Tim Carroll, an ATF special agent detailed to the public affairs office, wanted to create an app that would allow the public to easily get access to ATF information and forms, they told the FOSE conference on July 19.

Jackson presented his idea to his managers, buttressing his argument with case studies. Jackson thought he'd made a good case, but the looks he got from the supervisors around the table made him feel like "I was about to be burned at the stake as a witch. I took that as a bad sign," he said.

Jackson continued to press his case and eventually got his immediate supervisor on board, but still no go-ahead from those further up the ladder. One day, in a conversation with one of those higher-ups, he impulsively went back to basics.

The manager told Jackson he wasn't necessarily opposed to Jackson's idea, but he didn't understand what it was. Jackson responded with a demonstration.

"I said, 'This is an iPad,' " he recalled. "This is an app." As he began to show what happened when he touched the app's icon, the manager's eyes widened in amazement and he finally, Jackson said, got it. While getting a final okay took another six months, that was the day that the dam broke, he said.

"I realized I should have started with more visuals," he said. "I could have cut through months of research by walking in and saying [to the supervisors], 'This is an iPad.' "

The problem, Jackson said, is that he's aware how much more likely it is these days for people to rely on tablet PCs and handheld devices such as smart phones than on desktop computers. "I assumed everyone in my chain of command knew that too," he said. "Not so much."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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