Here’s a Potential Customer You Might Be Overlooking: The Government

There’s a surprising new market for contract app development that many app developers haven’t tapped yet: the federal government.

Despite a reputation for being slow to change, government agencies are making progress on incorporating mobile apps into their business operations, and furthermore providing their mobile code to app developers for changes and improvements.

In fact, the White House and the General Services Administration created a Digital Services Innovation Center in July 2012 for the purpose of sharing mobile code with private sector app developers, as well as providing guidelines and training to ensure private sector app developers can meet government compliance regulations. President Obama also signed an executive order last year to open up data from government agencies, with the intention of making government data easier to move between platforms, and more accessible to app developers to use in creating new apps.

The Health and Human Services department has already developed more than 1,000 APIs and data sets that are available to the public. The department has also created tools allowing developers to pull its content into other mobile apps.

With this push toward providing app developers the tools and data they need to create better mobile apps for consumers to access government data, it will be interesting to see what kinds of new and useful apps are created.

For instance, what about a mobile app to complement the Healthcare.gov website? Despite the problems the site had on its initial launch (problems that are being solved with the help of New Relic’s web app monitoring tool), Healthcare.gov is still a resource needed by millions of Americans, and creating a mobile app would only increase its accessibility.

As the kinds of mobile devices available become more diverse, it will also be interesting to watch how government agencies incorporate them into their mobile strategies. Wearable tech, in particular, could greatly innovate how the government does business. There are a number of jobs within federal and municipal government where being able to record data and connect to the Internet hands-free would be an asset. Building and restaurant inspectors could record inspections from their POV; first responders could more easily coordinate teams and share information in emergencies; and crime scene investigators could provide detailed records of not just crime scenes but their own investigative processes at the same time. And those are just a couple of examples.

With this increased push to share data, the demand for app developer help in government agencies is also growing, and companies are making a huge push to fill that demand. Just take a look at Amazon Web Services. In Q3 2013, the company put out a call to recruit more than 100 IT professionals with top secret clearance to work on potential government projects.

ScreenShot20130520at1.40.13PMIn addition to hiring app developers for contract development, government agencies are also using a novel approach to recruiting the talent they need: contests and challenges. Posted on Challenge.gov, there are more than 300 problems posted by 50 government agencies that challengers can take on and solve for a prize.

For example, the General Services Administration is offering prizes to the developer or developers that create a mobile or web app that can sort through government travel data and use it to save travel costs for government agencies. The grand prize winner will be awarded $35,000, with second place being awarded $30,000, and one honorable mention being given $25,000. (Interested? Entries are due by April 11).

There are many other challenges app developers can take part in, which are listed on the Challenge.gov website. Government agencies have issued challenges to developers to create apps concerning climate change, HIV/STD prevention, and energy resources, among others.

All of these changes suggest that government agencies are catching up to the idea that technology can be used to improve how they perform their tasks, and that agencies can’t rely on internal talent alone to come up with these solutions. Civilian contractors have always been a staple of the military-industrial complex, but we are now seeing civilian contractors become an asset to government technology initiatives as well.

If you haven’t looked into creating an app for a government agency, you probably should. There are plenty of opportunities to innovate and solve problems.

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