To App or Not to App – that’s the question

Mobile phones have invaded our lives over the last couple of years. We live on a continent where in every country there are more mobile subscriptions than citizens – with no exceptions. The number of people accessing the internet through their mobile phones is increasing significantly: in Europe by 138% in two years on average.
Mobile government contributes to increased customer satisfaction – as it allows for personalisation of services and burden reduction. It can also boost operational efficiency and productivity, and transform traditional operating models. It might also offer a solution to bridge the digital divide.
On average 1 in 4 European public websites is mobile-friendly
The eGovernment Benchmarked assessed mobile-friendliness of public websites in Europe. On average 27% of European public sector websites in the domains Business start-up, Losing and finding a job, and Studying are mobile-friendly. There are big differences within countries and only a few countries, like the UK, show consistent – and positive – results across all life events. Clear room for improvement, and a must to be able to match customer expectations.
Addressing the new generation
Young people use internet websites less and less – they use apps. We saw in the 2012 user survey that lack of awareness is one of the barriers to young people using online services. This might very well be caused by the fact that governments are addressing them in the wrong way, through the wrong channels.
Apps or mobile responsive design? Or both?
The solution to attracting the new generation of ‘public customers’ to online public services might also be in creating apps. However, the UK is leading practice in Europe and takes a clear stand in this regard. The UK believes the benefits of developing and maintaining apps will very rarely justify their costs, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal. It believes its government departments should focus on improving the quality of the core web service.
Responsive design basically means that when users access a site using a mobile device, the website adapts automatically to allow for appropriate resolution, image size and scripting, thus making for easy viewing on any device. A website is simply easier to access than an app: visitors tap into a government portal and click through, without a download necessary. An overload of apps can also cause a cluttered mobile home screen.
Apps on the other hand allow a user to access data when offline. It also allows for a certain personalisation that could enable eg push messages to be send based on user’s interests. Users have also become accustomed to the ‘app experience’ in a way, and that could in certain cases be preferable for certain government services. Imagine arranging all your student engagements through one app: overview of registered classes, credits, grants and such – in a way comparable to eBanking.
Perhaps hybrid apps will be the solution. These combine the best of both worlds. A hybrid app may be thought of as a core of Web information, wrapped inside a smart-phone shell. It looks like a downloadable app and delivers like a responsive website. The complexity and maintenance related to building regular apps is lower.
In any case, to truly deliver on the potential of mobile, a different organisational mindset is required. Processes, data, services – all should be tuned to the situation of the user at a particular moment to create an excellent customer experience. Otherwise mobile is just an additional channel, and not in sync with expectations of customers (and civil servants!).

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