With chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne’s announcement that the government will pledge £40 million in funds to develop applications for the Internet of Things and Smart Cities as part of the 2015 budget, it got me thinking about how this funding could be utilised to best effect. Every app development provider around the country must be putting together their proposals as you read this, but is this really the best use of tax-payer’s money?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see such a big investment in connectivity and Smart Cities is the type of futuristic opportunity that gets voters excited in time for the General Election, but are these applications really going to have an impact on our daily lives and more importantly, will they make a difference at the local council level?
With the rather lofty goal of getting 97% of government and local council services online by 2020, the UK government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy advocates digital self-service to be the first port of call for citizens or businesses accessing public services. It is estimated that this approach will save £1.7 billion per annum across the public sector.
Widely publicised stories indicate that local councils have not been making much progress compared to central government functions. Therefore would it not be better to plug funding into the ‘digital by default’ strategy and enable self-service portals for the services people regularly use? What about case management tools to help social services work more effectively, or a customer relationships management system that allows councils to provide a more efficient and better customer experience for citizens rather than being pushed from one department to another? What about school or citizen self-service portals? There is a wide array of application needed for councils to deliver 97% of the services online and integration across the applications and the back-end systems will be key.
In previous years the Government Digital Service (GDS) has it made very clear that they do not approve of the cost of native app development. It is therefore interesting that recent developments in the Internet of Things have caused this u-turn - especially given the GDS is also being extended to cover local councils who normally operate on smaller budgets.
It is my belief that Government would benefit from investing in an application development platform which would allow for the development of both Smart Cities and self-service portals. Outsourcing each app project separately is not only more expensive but can lead to all sorts of issues including the need to update and manage every single siloed app. I also believe that mobile web applications is the way to go and we need to avoid the native route. With the budget and resources constraint, the government entities need to think about how they develop once and deliver across all platforms and devices. A single responsive design site that users can access from phones, tablets and PCs is both easier to manage and more easily accessible to the user.
Ever decreasing budgets and tighter time restrictions are going to make point solutions impractical, full of maintenance backlogs and integration issues. By utilising an industry leading application development platforms, UK government would be able to allocate funding to more projects by reducing both the time and cost of app development while ensuring that it stays on the cutting edge of both the Internet of Things and Smart Cities. This will allow the UK to not only keep up with the fast pace of the third sector digital economy but speed ahead of the rest of the world and become a leading light for the digital revolution.
By Zahid Jiwa, VP UK & Ireland at OutSystems.
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