Arkansas Embraces a Mobile-First ApproachBy Samuel Greengard | Posted 03-12-2014
By Samuel Greengard
It's no secret that many U.S. state and local governments lag behind when it comes to adopting and deploying information technology. With tight budgets and limited resources, introducing the latest technologies and solutions is often daunting. One state that has broken the mold is Arkansas. "We are focusing on providing the right service to the right device in order to create the best experience possible for citizens and visitors," explains Claire Bailey, the state's CTO and director of the Department of Information Services.
The state, which has long operated the Arkansas.gov portal, has dialed into a best practices-focused mobile-delivery approach over the last couple of years. Working with e-government solutions integrator NIC, it has introduced a variety of app-based consumer solutions, including tools for obtaining hunting and fishing licenses, conducting sex offender registry searches, browsing through the state's health-care aid programs, and reviewing emergency preparedness. In many cases, app downloads are now well into the tens of thousands.
"When we analyzed the types of devices accessing the portal we came to realize that there are a growing number of mobile users, including a growing number of households that are now mobile only. For many, a smartphone is their primary means of contact," Bailey explains. "We realized it was time to take a mobile-first approach, focus on responsive design and build an infrastructure that's mobile-centric." Arkansas has focused primarily on the iOS and Android platforms, but it also plans to produce apps for Windows 8.
Bailey says she and other state leaders have worked to tie the IT strategy to the business drivers for Arkansas. For example, when Arkansas governor Mike Beebe stated that one of his goals is to improve education in the state, "we noticed that some scholarships and grants weren't being used," Bailey says. The Department of Higher Education approached the portal group and the two subsequently collaborated on a portal and mobile solution that integrates the federal aid system with state programs. Students enter personal data, including their income, and the app or mobile site provides a list of financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Today, 30 percent of users rely on mobile access for the service, compared to about 5 percent before the introduction of the app.
In fact, responsive design, which adapts content to a specific form factor, has served as the centerpiece for the state's digital initiative. Bailey and her staff pore over usage statistics to better understand who is using the site, what they are doing and which devices they're using. They also designed mobile apps to cache data so users can enter information wherever they're at but, if a cell signal isn't available, the device will later transmit the data when it is in range. "We have made it a point to design apps for the aesthetic as well as functionality," she explains.
Choices about which functions and processes to embed in apps is based largely on business and consumer needs. Bailey says the state uses a three-tier process to determine app development. The first step is to determine whether the app increases flexibility and allows faster or less expensive delivery; the second step involves understanding whether the app will reduce demands on the state; the third factor is the level of consumer demand. Finally, Arkansas uses a data analytics-based approach to drive decision-making.
"We work to combine data and metrics with a highly collaborative approach," Bailey explains. "The questions we ask are: What's the best value? What's the best utilization? And how can we move Arkansas forward?"
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "CIOs Face New Challenges With Software Licensing," click here.