Public sector apps: design, develop, deploy

The public sector has always had a large proportion of staff who are not deskbound. From social workers doing home visits, to community support officers interacting with the public, many are out and about for most of their day. 

Technology is catching up with this way of working and mobile applications can bring significant benefits to the public sector as it looks to achieve more with less and work smarter. 

For example, a social worker can use an app to check in and out of home visits and plot the most efficient route to the next stop. Head office can use the app to check that staff are safe as they can see whether they have checked out of a visit or not, no phone calls necessary.

The misconception many departments suffer from when thinking about developing an app is believing that it’s going to cost the earth, take a long time to develop and then end up not working properly. But this does not have to be the case. Being reluctant to risk taxpayer money is of course understandable, but apps can bring real efficiency savings to the public sector. When approached in the right way, a bespoke app can be in use and helping staff do their jobs better in just a few months.

The key lies in not getting bogged down in the first stages. Many organisations spend months – and tens of thousands of pounds – in developing the brief for what they want the app to do, which is unnecessary and wasteful. More enlightened organisations are doing small and Agile pilots, where they focus on a limited number of functions, and simply get going.

After spending a day or two with engineers talking about the desired functionality of the app, a trial app can be ready to pilot in a few weeks. This can be tested for a few months by half a dozen people in several locations. Data is tracked during the pilot and following feedback on the app, a clear plan can then be put together for building the final product. 

And because of the pilot, the department involved can be assured that they will actually get an app that will be useful to employees, and one that hasn’t been prohibitively expensive.

Government’s push to open up public sector business to more small and medium sized companies has shown a willingness to flex their supply chain. Government has been actively encouraging their incumbent large suppliers to partner with SMEs to provide even more flexibility. Departments are now able to access developers who can work closely with them to create apps that can get out into the field and make a difference sooner rather than later.

Kevin Knowles is Managing Partner at consultancy Cavendish Wood

Mel Poluck

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