Building government app stores

Creating a communal standardised government app store may be hard to achieve, but it could greatly speed up public sector innovation.

Over the last couple of weeks I have had numerous conversations with government executives and IT leaders about cloud computing, open source, shared services, software reuse. These are all different perspectives on IT sourcing, and they are often made problematic by clumsy public procurement procedures.

Let’s take cloud computing. Part of its value proposition is the easiness to acquire a service according to a specific need, in the appropriate quantity and at the appropriate time. However, public procurement requires a due process that forces prospective buyers to go through a competitive tendering process that takes time and can ultimately annihilate that particular aspect of the cloud value proposition.

To counter this, central government agencies, such as the GSA in the US or the Cabinet Office in the UK, have established cloud stores hosting service offerings from vendors who have successfully responded to a request for proposal. This allows departments to buy at ease through those stores – notwithstanding certification and accreditation, as well as any additional competitive tendering requirement depending on the quantity and nature of their purchase.

This model is quite similar to how mobile applications are sold through app stores, which can be either targeted to consumers (like Apple’s, Android’s etc) or established by an enterprise to deploy mobile applications to its employees. In fact we see a convergence of cloud and mobile app stores going forward.

But then, why should this be limited to mobile and cloud? What about commercial or open source software that still needs to be installed on premises? And let’s not forget about the mythical “sharing and reuse” of software across agencies, local authorities or even countries.

The app store model is potentially valuable for any sort of IT product or service that is sufficiently industrialised and packaged in order to be consumed by a non-expert client (i.e. potentially without the intermediation of the IT organisation, or without a deep expertise of the software itself).

Such a concept was present in the first version of the UK IT Strategy under the name of G-AS (Government Application Store), and is mentioned in the Strategic Implementation Plan: however the current focus on cloud computing has obscured the broader concept of the app store.

This is yet another example that governments should not focus on cloud computing per se (after all, it is just a different acquisition and delivery model) but on how to make sure that demand and supply meet more effectively and efficiently.

The app store could become the marketplace to access cloud, commercial software products, skills, as well as to finally succeed reusing and exchanging software across different government organisations.

However this broader objective may be hard to achieve if the development of government app stores remains in the hand of those who are in charge of either cloud or mobile strategies.

Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, where he focuses on the public sector, with particular reference to e-government strategies, Web 2.0, the business value of IT, open-source software. You can read his other posts here. 

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