Mobile Development: Four Steps to Getting It Right

When it comes to mobile applications, government agencies have no lack of commercial apps from which to choose. But that’s not necessarily an advantage.

Although there are countless mobile apps available in the market, the number of feasible options is reduced considerably because of agency concerns about security and privacy. Still, the Digital Government Strategy calls for “developing models for the secure, yet rapid, delivery of commercial mobile applications into the Federal environment.”

With government employees already using between 5 and 20 twenty apps -- and most agency IT executives saying they hope to integrate between 20 and 100 apps -- the message is clear: Agencies need to invest in developing their own apps or find ways to mitigate risk and control access for employees.

The good news is that organizations have identified a number of strategies that can make the development process move along more smoothly. Here are four that experts say can ease the transition into custom mobile app development.

Identify your targets. While the tagline, “There’s an app for that,” might suggest that apps should be available for every process within an organization, but that’s simply not the case, says Brent Iadarola, research director for Frost and Sullivan’s mobile and wireless group. “It’s up to IT to uncover which business processes would be more efficient with mobile enablement,” he says. This starts with a detailed assessment of your current software applications – what are your most commonly used applications? Is there any software or apps that the line of business has been asking for? If you have a bring-your-own-device strategy, are there any apps that users have already downloaded onto their devices?

Train your staff to handle hybrid development. Native app development is easier since developers only need to be proficient with one platform’s operating system. But hybrid app development, which lets you build once and run on multiple platforms, will help you avoid having to port your apps after the fact to extend their use. If you do opt for a native development paradigm, make sure you are using technologies that are more secure than simple JavaScript. Security will be stronger when apps are running in a native application shell, says David Eads, founder, Mobile Strategy Partners. Either way, organizations should commit to training and hiring those with advanced mobile development skills as well as mission knowledge, since most organizations’ staff don’t have both business and technical knowledge. “In healthcare or financial there are regulatory issues that will require people to have a deep knowledge of those standards to be involved in the creation of apps,” Eads says.

Build in analytics. When rolling out an online initiative, it’s important to know how your apps are working, says Jack Gold, an IT consultant and founder of J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass. Explains Gold. First, are they being used? And if they are being used, are they working as expected, or are they slowing users down? “If you’re not measuring use, how will you know if your app is successful?” he says. Eads estimates that only about 10 percent of mobile apps have analytics built in, unlike web apps, which are commonly tracked by analytics.

Implement an MDM/MAM solution. Mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) help with the deployment, security and ongoing development of apps. MDM functions as a single point of contact and control for the management of mobile devices, including pushing out new configurations, policies, and apps. Meanwhile, MAM is designed to control, distribute and manage mobile apps. It gives IT an easy channel for developing, testing, and publishing mobile apps as well as giving it the ability to push out new versions as they move through the development lifecycle.

Throughout the development cycle IT should remember that mobile devices will change the workflow and use of an app, says Eads. “Things like GPS and a camera can fundamentally change the way people get their jobs done,” he says. “If you don’t take that into account you miss the benefits of using mobile as a platform.”