5 Strategies for App Development Collaboration Across Various Government Agencies

In digitally transformed countries, public-use apps have become a vital means for government agencies, citizens, and businesses to participate in society. In many instances, one cannot even hope to realistically access important public services without the right smartphone apps. 

However, all the digital connectivity that many modern countries enjoy today has been hard-earned. Many places throughout the world are still experiencing digital growing pains, largely because legacy governance frameworks were not envisioned for a world where every individual was connected at all times. As a result, it is not unusual for digitalisation initiatives to be restricted to the scope of individual agencies.

This situation eventually results in a kind of “Galapagos syndrome”  in governments, where individual agencies had their own databases and apps that couldn’t effectively interface effectively with apps used by other organisations, including those they were supposed to be collaborating with. These situations often lead to cost inefficiencies in app development that further delay full digital transformation, often with serious implications for public services and economic growth.

Collaboration issues are still extant in many places but have largely been resolved in advanced economies like Singapore. Singapore is a particularly good case study for government agency application development given its early digital transformation. Also, the city-state has demonstrated a pattern of success that can provide other countries a baseline from which to improve public-use apps. Here are some app development ideas that policymakers can consider to overcome bureaucratic challenges and technological disparities:

1. Establish a Unified Tech Stack

For the uninitiated, a “technology stack” is a preselected combination of technologies that forms the foundation for an application. Tech stacks will typically include programming languages, frameworks, libraries, tools, and sometimes hardware or operating systems.

Previously, the norm for government agencies throughout the world was to define their own individual tech stacks. This approach has the theoretical advantage of allowing each agency to select the most optimal combination of technologies. In practice, optimal tech stacks are seldom selected, if there are any optimal choices to begin with. Critically, the abundance of different tech stacks tends to make interagency collaboration more complex than necessary.

For governments, unifying tech stacks across all agencies, as has been done in Singapore, is the optimal solution for better collaboration. When all agencies use compatible technologies, integrating applications and sharing data becomes far easier. As a bonus, agencies can more easily streamline app development processes, as defining a unified tech stack will eventually result in more app developers specialising in the exact areas that agencies need.

2. Develop Clear Communication and Project Management Channels

Even with a unified tech stack, government agencies must still establish common communication procedures as well as a singular communication culture. To ensure everyone is on the same page, government agencies must have as few points of contact as needed. They must also agree on using a centralised project management tool to oversee the app development process so that stakeholders no longer have to jump from platform to platform to get the information they need. Centralised channels ensure transparency across multiple agencies, minimising one of the biggest roadblocks in government app development.

3. Standardise Data Sharing Protocols

To maximise the potential of unified tech stacks, governments should also establish standardised protocols for data sharing to guarantee seamless information exchanges far into the future. Standardised data sharing allows for data automation, which reduces the risk of miscommunication and guarantees access to accurate and up-to-date information across agencies. Standards can include common data formats, APIs, as well as compliance procedures for data protection regulations.

4. Build a Collaborative, Goal-Oriented Development Culture

This could be the most challenging aspect of interagency app development. Interagency rivalries are not uncommon throughout the world, partly because wider frameworks essentially compel agencies to compete for limited budgetary resources. 

Fortunately, this is not an insurmountable issue. Actively promoting collaboration and a focus on overarching goals should, in due time, create a shared culture that prioritises collective problem-solving. To reinforce this desired culture, cross-agency workshops, joint training sessions, and team-building activities can be held to keep any rivalries friendly and productive. Over time, this approach can help break down information silos and create mutual respect, creating a good foundation for faster, cost-effective app development. 

5. Create a Governance Framework

A firm but fair governance framework must be put in place to standardise and oversee public-use app development. This framework should define roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes to prevent turf wars and duplicated efforts across agencies. As a government faces new technological challenges, frameworks should be revisited and adjusted to maintain cohesion and alignment.

Building Human and Technological Bridges Across the Public Sector

Collaborative app development can be challenging, even in the best of circumstances. Doing it in a government setting can amplify the hurdles in some ways, particularly when interagency rivalries are at play. Fortunately, following the approaches outlined above can give government app developers an atmosphere and environment that is more conducive to collaboration and success. Through early investment in the right technologies and protocols, governments can overcome the hurdles of digital transformation to create a modern system that is both collaborative and beneficial to all stakeholders.

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