App Development Rush Strikes California State Government

With dedicated mobile app developer, agencies make data available on mobile platforms.

by / June 25, 2010

They're not expensive to make, don't take long to develop and provide an invaluable service to citizens. They're smartphone apps and they're easier to create than one may think.

California -- which includes more than 500 departments, agencies and commissions -- has recently made a concerted effort to encourage app development. The Office of Technology Services, part of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), hired mobile application developer Robert Meza about a year ago to work with state agencies to make the app development process less complex. Meza is the state's first dedicated mobile app developer.

In a push for agencies to create their own apps, Meza was charged to assist state agencies in their mobile app development, said OCIO spokesman Bill Maile. He has already met with more than 20 departments and shown them mobile user interface design and best practices, resulting in their own app development.

"We've laid out the groundwork for departments to be able to create their own applications," Maile said. "And we expect a number of mobile apps to skyrocket in the future."

There are already more than 40 mobile apps available from state agencies, from more than 20 departments, Maile said. The apps include a popular state park finder, real-time traffic information from the California Highway Patrol, and a smog check app from the Bureau of Automotive Repair.

"It opened up a whole new way we could communicate with everyone out there who is using those handhelds and smartphones in their daily lives," California State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said. "People are becoming a little last minute and spontaneous (and) we thought, 'How do we adapt to them, and give them a user-friendly, mobile connection?'"

Perhaps one of the more user-friendly features of the state's mobile services is the ability to set one's location by ZIP code, which then syncs with the mobile apps. Essentially this saves users time by automatically inputting their location for any state app.

And while there are no hard figures on the cost to develop such apps, it's very low, Maile said. "We're actually, in most cases, not creating applications from scratch," he said. "These databases exist already, but they have never been available in a mobile platform."

Some apps can be developed in as few as three hours because agencies don't have to rebuild the logic or database and can just use a template, Maile said.

And new state apps are being continuously created for all smartphones. "They have lots of apps and data, so almost anything that people can do online now may have a future on a mobile-enabled device," Maile said.

Some of the more recent apps to go live include a fishing app from the Department of Fish and Game, which allows users to access fishing spots, locate fish planting sites and fish license sales locations. Another invaluable app, from the California Highway Patrol, provides real-time updates on where officers are responding along California's roadways.

So far, every department Meza has met with has been very enthusiastic in developing mobile applications, Maile said.

"Throughout the departments, there are hardworking and talented Web developers," Maile said. "They are passionate, creative and do a great job for the people of California."


Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.