Agencies that want to step onto the mobile stage should formulate a comprehensive game plan, as opposed to a "let's just build it" mentality.
With smartphones and tablet PCs progressively overshadowing computers as a means for accessing the Internet, federal agencies understand the need to go mobile. In their well-intentioned attempts to be where constituents come looking for them, however, agency IT leaders can be tempted to just get something out there rather than develop a mobile strategy based on constituent needs and how people are using mobile devices to access information.
Mobile technology does not lend itself to a "big bang" implementation process, but agencies can leap toward mobile friendliness by making sure their existing websites use responsive design, which adjusts how the site appears depending on the device used to access it. In addition to mobile phones and tablets, that includes planning for a site's potential use with evolving technology, such as large-screen TVs and wearable electronics, which people increasingly will use as active displays for Internet information.
The following steps will help federal agencies develop and implement plans for going mobile.
- Set priorities. Services that lend themselves to mobile delivery and generate high constituent use should take precedence in the mobile development process. Implementing those functions first provides the greatest benefit to users and brings focus to the project by eliminating the pressure to simultaneously make every service mobile-ready.
- Ask and listen. Government agencies usually have a sense of how their constituents use information on their websites, but testing those assumptions can result in a more user-relevant mobile experience. Surveys and other feedback mechanisms provide a starting point for targeting the uses and information most important to their constituents. Even so, after a mobile site operates for a few months, agencies might discover that people are using it differently than they expected. Refining the site over time based on ongoing feedback is critical.
- Think small. Smaller mobile screens require that agencies quickly get users to the services they need. The smaller the real estate, the more it forces clarity and focus, so agencies should evaluate what users will want to see when they use a mobile device to arrive at the site and make sure that content is easily visible and accessible. The mobile site might need to be quite different from what users see when they visit a website from their desktop computers.
- Decide between responsive design and native apps. Agencies often debate whether they should offer mobile functionality via a Web-based platform or a native application. Developing native apps can be pricey, and they aren't suitable for certain services, such as those that individuals or businesses need to access only once a year. In fact, some services, such as lengthy forms that require online completion, do not lend themselves to delivery on mobile devices at all. If an agency already maintains a well-designed and responsive website, it's likely that most services can be offered through the site rather than a native app and will work well on any mobile platform.
- Borrow best practices. Agencies should avoid getting stuck in a silo mentality that limits their field of vision. Communicating with other agencies about their mobile strategies will allow officials to avoid pitfalls and take advantage of best practices, including the most effective ways to integrate security into a mobile platform.
Officials should consider the various available delivery platforms -- computers, mobile devices and, soon, wearable technology -- as interconnected and decide what services and delivery methods offer the greatest benefit to their agencies and their constituents. The result will be a customer-relevant move to mobile.
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