Why Do I Need An App If I Already Have A Mobile-Friendly Website?

by Abe Lee

During the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) - IT Solutions Management (ISM) Conference, a few different government folks stopped by to chat with me about mobility solutions while I manned our booth in the vendor hall. As a result of those conversations, I learned quite a bit about people’s understanding of the mobility domain. For example, as more and more smaller jurisdictions (e.g. counties) are trying to work with larger jurisdictions (e.g. states), it seems that supporting a multi-platform solution is a necessity. In other words, these smaller jurisdictions can't mandate what the vendor or partner community will use as part of a mobility solution – so they need a solution that will work on an iOS device, an Android device and a Windows device (e.g. iPad Pro, Samsung, and Surface Pro 2). Another point that kept coming up was that although the benefit and usefulness of a tablet was pretty obvious, the desire was more for viable tools that workers could utilize on their phone. People are looking for tools that aid interactions with clients, not detract from it. Finally, and the point I want to focus today's blog on, is the need to make sure folks understand that a responsive website is not the same thing as a mobility strategy.

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It is impossible not to be impacted by one’s environment. I’ve been involved in the Health and Human Services (HHS) domain for 25 years, and because I discuss what true mobility solutions should look like on a daily basis with my colleagues, I sometimes forget that not everyone understands that simply creating a responsive or "mobile-friendly" website isn't enough to meet an organization's mobility needs. This week's post is going to step away from my typical discussion of how the social needs of HHS staff and clients can and should be supported by #UsefulTech. Instead, I want to respond to the question "Why do I need an app if I already have a mobile-friendly HHS website?"

Let's start with the basic assumption first - mobile devices are quickly becoming not only the first tool people use to get online, but for many; it's the only tool used to get information from the web. So, providing consumers/clients/workers with access to data via responsive websites is no longer a luxury, but a requirement. Google announced in May of 2015 that over half of its searches (the last count came to 2 trillion annually) are done via mobile devices.




Your orgnanization may have already embraced this fact and understand and live by the new normal of mobile first. You may have also moved to something more like what Utah.gov and Colorado.gov have done (beautifully designed mobile-friendly websites). The question is whether your organization or department really need to move into the app world? Is it necessary?

This is where I believe that understanding the true intent and purpose of websites versus productivity tools needs to be clearly defined. Mobile friendly (or responsive or mobile first) websites absolutely have value and are important in the mobile web landscape – but they are more beneficial for the reactionary user. Take this example; you are trying to win a bet with your friend, so you need to look up the words to the Big Mac song. A responsive site is an awesome resource. On the other hand, a mobile app provides the ability to shorten the time from point A to point B for a defined task. If, instead of going to a mobile-friendly website, you decided to tap directly into YouTube to search for the "Big Mac song" or right to your McDonald's app to buy a Big Mac (and forget your friends in the process), then a discrete task has been completed in a fraction of the time it would have taken.

And not only are apps better suited to help completed targeted actions (hence the need to identify the right user stories for the Health and Human Services domain), it also allows you to take better advantage of the phone's built-in features that responsive sites can't – like push notifications, messaging, GPS and the in-phone camera. Add to that; the innate security risks associated with responsive sites that encrypted native apps can protect the user from, along with support of offline capabilities – only a native app can provide a user with a true productivity solution when interacting with government agencies.

Now, there isn't a need to create an app for everything that government does. For example, I don't think that certain apps that allow you to complete an activity that you need to do once every five years are very useful. But a self-service app that pulls in your current Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) balance, and with the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to see what food from my list of approved Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) items is in the grocery store I'm in right now, and to then have the ability to take a picture of the Universal Product Code (UPC ) with the built-in camera to start creating a real-time list of items to see how much more food I can buy… now that is a native app that has benefit and something a responsive site would never be able to do.

All of that was just food for thought. Are you interested in perhaps giving some thought to your first HHS mobile solution? Are you unsure where to begin? Get the “11 key insights for a successful HHS Mobility project” to help you get on your way.