WASHINGTON — As the government struggles to keep up with the changing habits of an increasingly networked citizenry, federal agency technology chiefs need to expand their digital platforms to create app-oriented content custom-tailored for smartphones and tablets.
Senior government technologists, speaking at an event hosted by Adobe, argue that it's no longer sufficient for agencies simply to post regulatory filings, hearing notices, data sets and other information on a static website.
Increasingly, as citizens use a wider array of devices, the presentation of government content needs to adapt to those varied platforms, according to Jacob Parcell, manager of mobile programs at the General Services Administration's Digital Services Innovation Center.
And in a technology environment where change seems to be the only constant, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for digital content. "The agencies that I see that are most successful are doing multiple things," Parcell says. "Try a bunch of things just to see what's working."
Mobility Part of Larger Digital Government Strategy
Many of the government's recent efforts to revamp the production of content and delivery of services for a mobile, digital age have come in response to the digital government strategy the White House released in 2012.
In a government-wide memo directing agency heads to develop a roadmap for implementing the digital strategy, President Barack Obama acknowledged that government services had fallen out of step with the ways that citizens use technology and called on agency CIOs to modernize their online operations with a particular focus on mobile.
"For far too long, the American people have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of information across different government programs in order to find the services they need," Obama said. "In addition, at a time when Americans increasingly pay bills and buy tickets on mobile devices, government services often are not optimized for smartphones or tablets, assuming the services are even available online."
The mobilization of government content comes as a corollary to agencies' efforts to integrate mobile strategies within the federal workforce. These efforts challenge CIOs with an array of issues familiar to their counterparts in the private sector, including BYOD and developing mobile device management policies.
On the content side, the GSA has set up the >Mobile Apps Gallery, offering more than 200 agency applications that can be filtered by platform. Increasingly, agencies channel their resources into developing specialized mobile apps, rather than the more general production of mobile Web content.
"What agencies are starting to do," Parcell says, " is move up the stack"
'Mobile First' Becoming Trend in Government IT
Just as CIOs have been instructed to prioritize cloud computing technologies as they look to new IT procurements, mobile applications are increasingly becoming the default for content production.
"We are seeing this trend toward mobile apps," says John Landwehr, vice president of government solutions at Adobe. "Mobile first is now the trend."
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Lakshmi Grama, the senior digital content strategist at the National Cancer Institute, says she's been working with writers and content owners to develop materials that are native to their platform, accounting for the nuances of a traditional Web pages, mobile sites and apps.
More broadly, she notes that a successful content strategy needs to involve more than just making public the vast data sets over which the federal government presides. Instead, she says agencies must take steps to put that content in a usable format so developers can build applications on top of government data.
"Content needs to be imbued with some kind of intelligence," Grama says. "That's what structured content is really all about."