In my experience, which involves being involved in a significant portion of Rock Solid’s (previously CitySourced) business, including launching an app for civic tech just slightly one year after Apple created the iTunes marketplace, is that even to this day local governments purchasing a smartphone app for public citizen facing purposes falls to about 50/50 when it comes to that municipality making a conscious, well-thought decision to purchase that app and the app just happened to be included with another piece of technology. And this isn’t all that uncommon where organizations across all business types tend to experiment with new technologies, perhaps before thinking long-term about their strategy or approach to it. But, there are significant consequences of not formulating a long-term mobile strategy.

If your organization takes a laissez-faire approach to mobile apps, more and more vendors are going to offer them in order to check a box or to add a point of differentiation against their competitors. But the result is that your organization won’t have articulated why, how, and when it should be driving services to your residents via a mobile app. Therefore, you’re going to have a difficult time telling one department they can’t offer their services through a mobile app while another department can. You then not only have a political headache because you haven’t defined the process to push out services to the smartphone, but you’re also not going to have a better solution or alternative to offer that department. What ends up happening is that you say yes to any and all vendors that provide a smartphone app. And that my friends is when you enter the dreaded app sprawl.

This shouldn’t be a deterrent to say we can’t push any services out to a mobile app. Instead, it should be a starting off point to think about what you want to do beyond just a single mobile app. We believe that there are four digital milestones that all local governments must eventually cross when they are providing services digitally to their residents. The third milestone is providing a mobile app. But, this should not be the stopping point because of the potential for app sprawl.

Instead, organizations should adopt a mobile app platform strategy. In doing so, they’re able to define what type of services get pushed out to mobile, and more importantly they have a platform with which they can quickly spin up new services, test these services, and run less expensive pilots by which to truly measure adoption and usage by residents instead of making a heavy investment in standalone apps.

Test new services and run less expensive pilots, to quickly measure adoption and usage by residents with milestone #3 Click To Tweet

What’s worse when you get into app sprawl is that you and your organization dedicate resources that don’t add a creditive value to the services you provide digitally and on the smartphone. The reason is that app sprawl forces you to maintain multiple apps which require maintenance, support, marketing, promotion, and technical overhead. All of these factors do nothing to provide more services to your citizens, but instead, they are draining your organization of resources because you’ve entered into app sprawl.

All governments are going to eventually cross all four digital milestones. There will be governments that have a well thought out plan and there will be a lot of governments that basically zigzag between these approaches and eventually kind of fall into crossing each but with making many mistakes along the way. Our hope and mission is to educate as many local governments as possible about these milestones and assist them in creating a process and approach by which they can hopefully avoid many of the pitfalls associated with these digital transformations and milestones.