If the program is successful, that’s one bridge crossed with many more to go. For Pennsylvania, there’s wisdom in being wary — organizations with developed mobility programs like California got where they are partially through trial and error, and errors can be expensive.

Build It and They Won’t Come

California is a leader when it comes to mobility, but the state does things differently today than it used to, said Nancy Johnson, who until several months ago was acting director of the state’s Office of Technology Services.

“I’ve been in a lot of IT shops where we had a lot of cool tools, and we would build it and think they would come. It just doesn’t happen that way,” Johnson said. “If you’re building something that your customer doesn’t need or want, it’s going to fail, even if it works.”

The key, she says, is to build something that somebody wants, needs and will use — not just from a mobility perspective, but in any system. California ensures that it’s on the right track through maintaining strong partnerships with users and customers, she said. Technology Secretary Carlos Ramos meets regularly with his officers to identify common problems across agencies in order to create shared solutions that will be heavily used throughout the organization, Johnson said.

California announced on Feb. 10 the release of the third version of its mobile template, a starting point for agencies wishing to develop mobile interfaces for the state’s Web portal. But the fact that California has embraced mobility is incidental, said former California CTO Adrian Farley, who recently became CIO of the state Department of Justice.

“Mobility is just an extension of the strategy we’ve had for a long time, which is to create the most efficient, effective and service-oriented experience for the residents and businesses of California,” he said. A secure Web portal backed by robust networks was the best solution for the types of services offered by state government, he added.

“Using HTML5 allows us to really be more effective and efficient in the way we deliver services,” Farley said. “We don’t have the budget, the time or the personnel to create siloed applications.”

Each day thousands of Californians access online services made available by 35 state departments. At peak periods, a quarter or more of the Web traffic comes from mobile devices, according to California Technology Authority officials. Catering to that demand without duplicating efforts has gone a long way for the agency’s success, Farley said. “Usability is really the foundation for all the work that we do,” he said. “And obviously, there needs to be a strong business case for any investment in technology. So once that decision has been made, it really is all about the user.”

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com