Eavesdropper: Approach for government apps needs to change

Besides privacy concerns, marketing and getting the message through is a big reason for low usage.Besides privacy concerns, marketing and getting the message through is a big reason for low usage.

Last week, a compliance audit by the CAG showed that the Delhi police overpaid for creating apps, which solved little purpose and were not user friendly.

Financial irregularities aside what the report exposes is the lack of understanding of those in the government to run a thriving app ecosystem. For instance, even though the CAG report highlighted that apps by other police networks performed better than Delhi Police’s Himmat apps, an analysis of data shows that in each case the uninstall rate was over 60%. In the case of Himmat, however, out of 100 who installed the app, 80 deleted it, and even the remaining users did not access it frequently.

But Delhi Police is not the only entity to have a bungled up app response. Even Aarogya Setu, which is expected to be a necessity, has maxed out at 150 million downloads.

Besides privacy concerns, marketing and getting the message through is a big reason for low usage. Another significant issue is the user-interface. Government apps, not just in India but across the world, are created with a mindset that these are a necessity. And, the users will download them regardless of UI and design. So, the government does not have to compete for space on the phone.

That is the reason for multiplicity of apps and frequent uninstalls. There is little heed paid to aesthetics and design and user testing and feedbacks are a rare phenomenon. Instead, most apps are loaded with unnecessary features.

However, as governments are increasingly collaborating with start-ups, this approach needs to change. For one, downloading an app for each government service makes little sense. So, an attempt should be made to create a single point mechanism. In Arkansas, for instance, the single bot Gov2Go caters to all the needs of citizens. Moreover, functions that can be best served by competing apps should be given to other app providers or third party services.

If complaints about utility bills can be made via a bot on WhatsApp or Telegram, then it makes little sense to have a separate app. Similarly, in the case of Himmat, the police authorities would have been better off had they asked Ola and Uber to install QR codes and SOS buttons in their apps linked to policy response units. This would have eliminated the need for police to create a specific app for this service. Similarly, city administrations can collaborate with Google to create a safety map for women highlighting unsafe areas and presence of police personnel.

With more people accessing online services, the government needs to evolve its strategy and rely more on start-ups.

If the government can collaborate with the likes of Google for some service, not only would it cost less but will have a greater reach.

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