Skip to main content

Why smartphone apps aren't always the answer

It's happened for years, it happens in the private as well as the public sector and because of the move to deliver services via digital it's happening more and more.

What is it? Organisations purchasing applications and more lately smartphone apps as a quick fix, rather than a joined-up, strategic move for delivering services online.

I'm going to use fault reporting apps as an example. The type of thing you can use to tell councils about potholes, graffiti, and so on. There's a number of these around now all performing much the same task, many being sold in part as becoming really useful to people when more councils purchase them.

Whilst it seems that councils are doing right in offering more services digitally there's two main problems with this approach:


1) If you travel through the areas different councils look after, then you'll need to install apps for each location. 

There's no joined up approach to the way councils procure stuff like this, so for example if you live in Wiltshire but work in Reading and the three councils that cover the area of your journey have all bought separate apps (they haven't, by the way), then you'll need to install these three separate apps on your phone and remember to use the right one depending on where you are.

This is bound to create a negative view of digital services delivered by councils, when those that purchased them thought they were doing the opposite.


2) They're often not integrated with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

In some cases all these apps do is send an email. It's a better formatted email, containing geo-data and a sometimes a better quality of information, but it's still an email someone needs to manually type into a CRM. 

Whilst it can make it a easier for the customer, it's actually not delivering any time or efficiency savings for the organisations who purchase them and if you're receiving more reports because you've made it easier for residents to do so, it could actually cost you more.


So that's a lot of moaning about what happens now, but how could it be improved?

Councils should be looking to improve the foundation on which these digital services are built. In the case of the fault reporting app, it's creating something like an Open 311 Service and integrating this with a their CRM. 

Obviously this is a lot more difficult than buying an off the shelf app, it's not a quick win, but providing services like this digitally shouldn't be just a box ticking exercise, councils should be thinking about how residents might actually use them.

Creating a service built to a worldwide standard like Open 311 means any app worth its salt will provide data in a format you can then plug into your CRM and create new cases automatically.  

This means that it doesn't matter which app the customer chooses to use, they can still report faults to you, and it also removes the need for manually entering the data.

When planning for new digital services, providing firm foundations will not only improve customer experience, but help to create efficiency savings for your organisation.

I'm interested to get other's views on this and you find me on Twitter @PhilRumens to discuss it.


Popular posts from this blog

Digital best practice checklist

This week I finished the draft of a digital best practice check-list. It's not digital strategy, in fact I'm increasingly thinking organisations don't need a digital strategy, they need a delivery strategy.

My draft has check-list of seven questions and recommendations, with one overall recommendation regarding best practice for delivering digital. Ideally it would be incorporated into a wider service and information delivery strategy.

Below I've omitted the bulk of the content, the reasoning behind arriving at the recommendation from the question because it's still in draft, but here are the seven questions and eight recommendations:

1. Is the council properly promoting its digital services and content, to reduce avoidable contact?

Recommendation: Establish a “digital first” ethos to the promotion of services and better targeting what, when and where they're promoted.

2. Are the digital services the council offers, especially where the design and development ha…

Pipeline Alpha

In September 2014, officers from 25 councils met in Guildford to discuss a platform to enable collaboration across Local Government. A "Kickstarter for local government" is the missing part to Makers Project Teams, a concept to enable collaborative working across different organisations put forward by LGMakers the design and development strand of LocalGov Digital.

Based on the user needs captured at the event, LGMakers created collaboration platform Pipeline and by October people from over 50 councils had signed up. Pipeline is an Alpha, a prototype set up to evaluate how a Kickstarter for councils might work. It is a working site though, and is being used as the platform it is eventually intended to be, at present without some of finer features a live offer might have.

So what have I've learnt in the eight months since we launched Pipeline?

There's a strong desire to collaborate 

LocalGov Digital isn't a funded programme. I wrote about how much it LocalGov Digita…

Superfast highways

You may have seen this slide I put together to help explain digital transformation

This week we launched a new beta service to report speeding traffic. It looks fairly simple but to give you an idea of what's happening in the background I thought it might be useful to show you the before and after.

So here's the before

and as you can see it's completely a manual process. Stuff might be recorded electronically but it takes someone to do something seven time to make the process work and send it to the parish or the district.

Here's the after

What this doesn't tell you is that it's basing whether the request is for the parish or district on three questions. It's also doing a spatial look up to find the parish and returning the parish clerk details using the Modern.Gov API.

Because these are already part of our platform this is data that we currently maintain, so there's no additional work to keep this up to date and we've reduced the human interactio…

Defining transformation to a wider audience

For the past month I've been putting together a paper on the next steps of digital transformation, for the organisation I work for. I'm proposing we look at two capabilities and two business areas, and if approved I'll be writing more about it.

It's been a great exercise in gathering my thoughts and helping me to define digital transformation to a wider audience and how it fits into the bigger picture of service improvement.

Here's some of the stuff I've learnt or had affirmed:
Transformation, digital or not, starts with understanding the needs of the user through research. This should be obvious, but in local government too often I've seen "build it and they will come" approach applied.

It's unlikely a commercial operation would launch a new product without first researching the market, so why would a digital service be any difference?
A couple of years ago I wrote how the phrase "digital transformation" was hindering digital transf…

Carl's Conundrum of Internal Influence

I'm writing this partly as a reply to an excellent piece that Carl Haggerty published about the disconnect between internal and external influence and partly due to various conversations over the past month about how to make using tools like collaboration platform Pipeline common practice.

This isn't really about Carl though, or Devon County Council, or any other council specifically, it's more a comment on the influence of digital teams in local governments, or lack of, and how to resolve this.

So here's the question that prompted this piece. How can someone who's been recognised nationally for their work, first by winning the Guardian's Leadership Excellent Award and who has more recently been placed in the top 100 of the Local Government Chronicle's most influential people in local government, "sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally".

First, let's consider whether is this a problem to unique t…