“It’s better for us to be a bit slower out of the chute and maybe not quite as bright and shiny as some of the other municipalities across the nation have been,” Haight said, adding that the time saved through automated back-end integration has been worthwhile.

But I Want It Now!

On the other hand, New York City was quick to offer mobile services, releasing a mobile app for the city’s hugely popular 311 system in late 2009. But the speedy rollout came at the cost of excluding some functionality and back-end integration, said Andrew Nicklin, director of research and development for the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The app has been downloaded about 23,000 times since it was released.

“The application we have now is not heavily extensible, and it’s not driven by modern APIs [application programming interfaces] at all,” Nicklin said. “If we were to start from a blank slate, the whole thing would have to be service oriented and we would be exposing some set of services for the public to be able to build applications.”

New York’s 311 app doesn’t have all the functionality of the city’s 311 website and some of the input processes aren’t automated, but getting it released early allowed the city to gather user feedback.

“When the opportunity presents itself for us to put together another version of the application, all of that will be incorporated,” Nicklin said. “If we were going to be launching the application now, we wouldn’t have that experience and knowledge. I think getting out the gate early was very valuable to us. It helps us mature our offerings faster and offer better capabilities.”

Ultimately every development process comes down to weighing speed against perfection, said Nicholas Sbordone, director of external affairs for DoITT.

“Nothing’s going to be a perfect solution,” he said. “You balance what may be a very optimal solution, but that’s going to take a longer time with something you can get up, put out there and put on a test run and build on it for the future. I think we landed in the second consideration there.”

Starting Out

Pennsylvania isn’t afraid of new technology, but there are many factors to consider, said state CIO George White.

“We have a lot of agencies that are interested in mobility, but they really don’t know where to start,” White said. “How do we go about bridging the gap between where we are and where we’re going?”

Many workers want to use their iPads at work, for example, but just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. “You have to demonstrate a business use beyond just email,” he said. “There’s a cost associated with enabling those technologies.”

Pennsylvania plans to bring in a consultant to address the state’s many questions, White said. How will security be addressed? How do you ensure the technology is flexible enough for the future? What exactly is the value added for investment in a given technology? And who will develop the apps? “We don’t have people who are skilled with the [Apple] iOS platform or Android platform,” White said.

In tough budgetary times, training is often one of the first areas to be cut, and hiring new developers is sometimes not feasible. As an alternative, White said Pennsylvania is considering relationships with universities that will allow the use of software developed by computer science students.

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their spastic dog. He's obsessed with pizza and bread. Bill Watterson is his hero. He's learning to play chess. He thrives on criticism and wants to hear what you think of his reporting: cwood@govtech.com.