The ease of developing apps that allow citizens and residents to access public services from their mobile phone has made them an attractive digital innovation, with significant growth likely in 2023.
The challenge for public bodies will be to avoid a plethora of different and unconnected apps at the ‘edge’ of organisations, holding overlapping data and using conflicting access credentials.
“We are using small apps that do a specific task really well, rather than a suite of programmes”Jane Macleod, Chief Information Officer Nelson City Council, Aotearoa New Zealand
Ideally, apps should be connected and integrated across related public services and functions, and based on common protocols, design principles, security, and access design. In practice there is likely to be pressure on individual service areas to introduce their own local apps to connect with specific populations and interests, often as an independent service. A balance will need to be struck to ensure common standards and interoperability in app design, without constraining individual needs and service requirements.
“The importance of the smartphone in people’s lives shouldn’t be underestimated. Citizens are used to having the ease of use of apps like Netflix, Spotify, banking, … whenever they need it, wherever they need it. Local governments need to step up towards these expectations and offer equally simple and easy to use services to really be fully engaged in the digital era.”Youri Segers, Chief Digital Officer, City of Antwerp and Chief Executive Officer, Digipolis, Antwerp, Belgium
For example, a common cry from service users is for a single car parking app, rather than the proliferation of apps from different parking providers. The learning that comes from these and other ‘edge-based’ innovations is to create common standards that allow interoperability, without stifling innovation in the functionality being developed and offered.
Cardiff Council – developing a suite of app-based services
A good example of a well-designed and integrated app comes from Cardiff Council. In line with their Digital Strategy, an integrated approach with a focus on cloud based microservices was adopted.
Chris Lloyd, the Council’s ICT Operational Manager for Enterprise Systems and Data, says:
“It was imperative … to ensure that any proposed technical architecture would allow the development resource to have the maximum impact across the entire digital channel portfolio.”
A suite of microservices, including council tax, waste management and highways’ fault reporting is facilitated using APIs that can communicate with each other and be consumed via user interfaces with the council’s website and a new mobile app.
Havering Council – neighbourhood watch app
Council and police support new crime fighting app (havering.gov.uk)
Havering Council is launching a mobile app in support of its neighbourhood watch scheme, working with local police and in the neighbouring councils of Barking and Dagenham, and Redbridge. The aim is to make it easy for residents to report anti-social behaviour and crime in their area and hear about action being taken. This includes scams, burglaries, vehicle crime and more, with automatic language translation. The app also gives contact details for nearest police officers and police stations.
“The OWL (online watch link) … can reach our residents and enable them to report anti-social behaviour and crime. The scheme also means working even closer with our neighbourhood watch groups and other community groups, who are also our eyes and ears out there.”
– Councillor Ray Morgon, Leader of Havering Council, England
South Norfolk Council – bin collection app
Norfolk council launches app to remind people to put their bins out (planetradio.co.uk)
South Norfolk Council has introduced a bill collection app for residents and allows homeowners and businesses and to improve recycling and reduce avoidable contact when collections become disrupted or change.
“Having this platform where you can receive all bin guidance in one place will be a great way to keep residents in the loop and help us push forward with environmental targets.”
– Councillor Graham Minshull, South Norfolk Cabinet Member Environment