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Decide if you need a mobile app - Digital Standards

Find out if creating a new mobile application is the best choice for your agency or department.

Before you begin

What is a mobile app?

A mobile app (or mobile application) is a standalone piece of software developed specifically for use on smartphones and tablets, rather than for desktop or laptop computers.

When should you build a mobile app?

If you want your users to interact, engage better or if it is the best way possible to perform tasks more effectively, then you may decide that the unique attributes of a mobile app is best for you.

What are the cons of a mobile app?

It requires a significant amount of effort to build and maintain as technology and needs change.

A considerable sum might need to be budgeted due to app updates and to be built for multiple operating systems and audience.

What does the Victorian Government recommend?

All Victorian Government departments or agencies must only create a mobile app if it’s absolutely necessary. The government’s preferred approach is to deploy mobile-friendly websites in the first instance, before turning to dedicated mobile phone applications (mobile apps.)

What standards must be met?

This How-to guide is a decision-making tool, so we have not mentioned mandatory standards.

Getting it approved

Discuss your decision with your Digital Management Committee (DMC) or their equivalent.

Before any development begins, you’ll need to show local ICT practitioners or your department’s Digital Management Committee (or both) that you’ve worked through the questions below.

In short, you’ll need to convince them the idea is worth doing.

Work through the checklist to decide if a mobile app is right for you.

Question 1: Would the idea work as a responsive website instead of an app?

You will need to ask yourself what your business objectives are and what you want to achieve with the app.

  • what does the user want?
  • what does the user really need?
  • can user needs be met through a website or a web app using responsive design?

If your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to a wide range of people, then a mobile responsive website is what you need. A mobile responsive website can perform many of the same functions as apps.

However, if you want your users to interact, engage better or if is the only way your users can perform their tasks more effectively, then you may decide that the unique attributes of a mobile app is best for you.

Question 2: If a mobile app is being considered, are you confident the target user will download and, if necessary, configure the app?

Functionality checklist:

  • Does the app merely provide information that could be made available through a website? If so, what is the need to develop a mobile app for the information?
  • Is the information/service currently available through a website? If so, why is a mobile app required in addition to the website?
  • Can the development of the app be justified if the existing website improved its responsive design?
  • If the app is merely providing a textual or visual presentation of data, could the data be delivered in raw format through data.vic.gov.au or via your agency’s website instead?
  • What is the need to present the data through a government mobile app? Is that need significant enough because of the unique functions available in mobile apps?
  • Mobile websites can offer location data. However, apps can offer advantages over websites, for example, use the device’s 'native' application or operating system (for example, Android), or be usable offline.

Features checklist:

  • If the idea needs a specific feature of a mobile platform (for example an accelerometer), is the feature crucial to executing the idea or just a nice-to-have?
  • Have you confirmed if the feature required is available through existing web technologies (such as HTML 5)?
  • Which devices and browsers are you targeting, and do these browsers support the necessary technology? For a browser and technology support matrix, visit caniuse.com. If it is, and you still want to develop on a mobile platform, what is the justification for this choice?

Accessibility checklist:

  • Will the information/service provided on the app be available elsewhere, for example website? If not, the app might be said to be discriminating against users who cannot see the information. How will possible complaints be resolved or mitigated?

Platform considerations checklist:

  • If you choose a mobile app as the desired solution, will you publish on all popular platforms (for example Apple, Android, Windows) and accommodate a reasonable range of operating system versions?  If so, have you evaluated the costs of multi-platform delivery?
  • How will you decide which platforms to maintain the app for the long term? One option is to maintain it for any platform with at least X% of users. (Choosing a percentage will help focus your thinking on the complete lifecycle the app, and the cost of ownership long after its release.)
  • Have you compared the costs against this compared to the delivery on a website?
  • If the app won’t be delivered on multiple platforms, how will you resolve a complaint that the information or service it promotes is only available on a limited segment of the mobile phone marketplace?
  • Will users have to call a separate customer help desk? Is there a budget for this? The better approach might be to add advanced web properties instead of an app.
  • How often is the user expected to update your app?
  • How many iterations of an app have you budgeted for in your business case? At the moment you need to update an app at least once a year for each platform.

Question 3: Would your app be unique?

No two Government mobile apps should ever serve the same purpose. To avoid this, assess all ideas first against the existing government mobile apps. Use the WoVG Digital Group on Yammer (VPS access only) to start your research.

Government mobile apps should also perform some unique role or offer some unique insight that only the government can offer. They should not merely present static information. Your agencies shouldn’t create apps out of data that third parties could release and develop.

Your agency should start an ongoing dialogue to monitor your respective efforts in mobile development. These conversations will facilitate understanding as to what’s been done before, what’s now in development and where there are similarities and subsequent opportunities for reuse.

This also allows you to exchange knowledge and skills. The responsibility to engage with others is shared equally across all agencies — but you as the owner of a proposed mobile app have a special responsibility to engage from the moment an idea forms and becomes a possible development candidate.

Use the following checklist to guide discussion and evaluate the uniqueness of your app idea with your team.

Checklist

  • Have you scanned the government’s digital landscape for similar apps, including within your agency? The current list is kept on the Victorian government website.
  • If similar apps were found, have you engaged with the business unit/ or agency behind that app or website?
  • Will your proposed idea be sufficiently different?
  • If the proposed idea is similar to another app, have you drawn on the available intelligence from the other, similar app?
  • Even if the idea is unique, is there scope to consider opportunities to re-use it for close cooperation with other agencies to benefit from your experience?
  • Are there existing resources you can use?

Making the final decision

Do not proceed with the development of a mobile app if:

  • The idea can be satisfactorily implemented through other means, for example, as a mobile-responsive website.
  • Consider improving or augmenting existing web services.
  • If there are some similarities with another Victorian Government mobile app, exercise caution and consider approaching the relevant owners of that app to discuss any possibilities for collaboration or re-use.
  • Tip: Another option is to create a small app or app component to use alongside the existing app. Both Android (with Intents) and iOS (with App Extensions) support apps working together.

Continue with the development of a mobile app if:

  • The idea can’t be satisfactorily executed through other means and/or the use of handset-specific or OS-specific features is required. Users unable to take advantage of a mobile app aren’t disadvantaged and can get the relevant information or service through other channels.
  • The idea will be unique amongst all other Victorian Government mobile apps.

Write a brief to build a new app

If you’ve decided you need an app you’ll need to write a well thought-out brief to guide the app’s development. If you do this, your final app will achieve what it set out to achieve and it will deliver true value to your department and your end users.

  • Outline the objectives
  • Outline the benefits
  • Align with surrounding strategies and policies
  • Consider resourcing
  • Identify risk and outline mitigation strategies
  • Set up your performance measurement

Reviewed 19 August 2019

Join the conversation on digital

Get advice and share your insights about this topic with other digital practitioners on the WoVG Digital Group on Yammer (VPS access only).

Can’t access Yammer? Contact us by email: contact@dpc.vic.gov.au (We may post your comment on Yammer for general discussion. Please tell us if that’s not OK.)

Join the Yammer Digital Group
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