Apps in Government

The low cost, shorter development time, and ease of use make apps extremely attractive to non-profits and government organizations as well as to their for-profit colleagues. As is the case with any organization, there's often a bureaucracy as well as established policies and procedures that can make the use of new technologies such as apps a challenge. Many of us know ways to handle these issues (do a Google search on skunkworks), but there are some additional tools available.

In the US, Apps.gov, a service (and website) provided by the General Services Administration provides a great resource for federal agencies interested in apps and other new technologies. At least that's the published mandate. In fact, the information on apps.gov is available to everyone, so that individuals as well as non-federal entities can take advantage of parts of the system.

By way of background, here's the summary of GSA's mission:

GSA oversees the business of the U.S. federal government. GSA’s acquisition solutions supplies federal purchasers with cost-effective high-quality products and services from commercial vendors. GSA provides workplaces for federal employees, and oversees the preservation of historic federal properties. Its policies covering travel, property and management practices promote efficient government operations.

In short, they're the business manager for everything federal, although some departments and agencies (Defense, for example) have their own acquisition and procurement systems).

Apps.gov offers two basic services:

  1. It lists products and vendors for which acquisition policies and contracts are in place with the government. If an agency wants to acquire anything from data management software to productivity software, it can work with approved vendors who often offer preferred pricing to the government.
  2. If specific additions to the terms of service for software or other legal documents are needed for government use, this has been negotiated by GSA and the forms can be downloaded so that they can be included in any agency acquisition and deployment.

In other words, possible preferred pricing, approved vendors, and the legal niceties. This last point is critically important for apps and for other software that is very low-cost or free. Because GSA is supporting the entire government, they can negotiate these terms for everyone. The owners of the products can justify the time and effort spent on special agreements like these even if no money is changing hands, whereas an individual organization might not get very far. A good example of this is the addendum to Google Analytics Terms of Service negotiated by GSA.

In addition, there are other documents such as the Terms of  Service Process for Free Social Media.

Obviously there's a great deal of work that's been put into apps.gov, and there's more to come (cloud computing, for one area). The challenge in adopting many of these new technologies is getting it past the rules and regulations that can date back 50 years or more to the days of punched cards and teletypes. GSA has made a great leap forward.

For non-government entities, the information alone can be useful. In particular, the terms of the addenda to terms of service and the like may serve as models (i.e., you can re-use them, but subject to your own legal counsel's review). And even if you don't adopt them, they may answer questions from management.