As part of the recent Smart Cities Innovation Summit held in Austin, Texas, I was invited to host and moderate the Making Mobile Accessible to Cities panel discussion to explore share successes and lessons learned to make it possible for more agencies to deliver cutting edge solutions to their citizens. 

The panel's viewpoints spanned diverse perspectives and offered several insights. Here are a few of the main concepts shared: 

Begin with Better Access to Data

When cities prioritize access to real-time and well-constructed data sets, they can more easily support mobile apps developed internally and by other developers and companies. 

As the CIO who is architecting the technology roadmap the City of Albuquerque, Peter Ambs, shared that one of his priorities has been fostering a curiosity of data, both among government leaders and within the community, and that creating and sharing data can have the added benefit of making it easier for the city or others to develop mobile applications using that data.

And while early open data initiatives within cities focused on sharing information that was often published through FOI (freedom of information) requests such as salaries and budgets, cities must also ensure that processes are established  and that appropriate layers of security are implemented to prevent the release of private information as well as protect against cyber attacks.

Start Specific

As the Developer Evangelist and Product Manager for Accela Software, Seth Axthelm has had the opportunity to work with many of the more than 2200 cities and communities deploying new software and technologies to digitize processes and systems. "Most of the time, when one of our clients wants to add mobile, it is because they've identified an area where it will improve their internal processes, either by completing more work per day or cutting down on the time to complete a task. So gathering metrics around the success of that app is usually easy, since it is easy to track the numbers before the app and afterwards."

Axthelm added that it is rare for a client to not want more mobile solutions when they've had success with their first, but that the time and cost of scaling stand alone mobile apps can make it difficult to adapt to each client's unique workflow and data.

Plan for Scale

As the COO and Cofounder of APPCityLife, Lawrence Abeyta, has spent the past eight years overseeing the development of a mobile publishing platform making it possible to create, share and scale mobile apps without knowing how to code. While sharing solutions between agencies shortened the time and cost to get into mobile, he added that the ability to then easily customize a mobile app to fit each agency's specific needs was also vital for scale.

In addition to customization, when platforms can offer flexibility and ease of integration across platforms and between multiple companies or partners, the end result is far better.

Culture of Collaboration

When cities foster a spirit of collaboration and make it possible for large and small companies to work with the city, everyone wins. 

This was quite apparent when San Francisco's CIO invited startups as well as global corporations to apply to participate in the city's bid for a $50 Million Smart City grant. Not only did the city receive an impressive commitment from 70 companies, but $150 Million was offered in additional pledges.

Abeyta also addressed the value of platforms which can support the technical needs of collaborative projects, using the example of Smart Stop, a smart cities pilot project which includes multiple companies working with the Valley Transit Authority in Silicon Valley. As a partner in the project, APPCityLife's platform has enabled multiple technology feeds and data sets from a variety of companies to seamlessly integrate into a single, easy-to-use mobile app.


Abeyta added, "Although there was only Apple when we started developing our mobile publishing platform, we knew from the beginning that agencies would need to be able to support multiple platforms - and we've seen that happen - not only with mobile but also the technologies that need integrate with mobile, like wearables, beacons, or machine to machine." 

Ambs also spoke to the barriers to such collaborative projects often created by convoluted procurement policies. "In the spirit of being risk averse, procurement codes continue to evolve and new requirements added, such that, over time we end up with these very complex set of rules that make it difficult to get a new contract in place. And if it has to go out to RFP, well, that's an even longer, more difficult process."