No visitor to the government exhibition hall at GITEX Technology Week could miss the big iPhone look-alike screen at the entrance of several stands! Like this one at the Ministry of Labor stand:
Actually, this is a symbol of how developing apps for iPhone (and other smart device platforms) has become a key trend across the government sector in UAE. I toured the government stands to find out more about this trend and here are my own findings and comments: Many government entities in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and even those at the federal level have launched their apps; I have downloaded more than twenty of them. Most of these apps are for iPhones only, while a few come in versions for other platforms including Android, Blackberry and Windows. In addition, some entities have dedicated versions of their apps for the tablet PCs. The best example of a cross-platform app is the one developed by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). Most of these apps provide information about the entity and its services (e.g. customer care contact details) but you can’t actually access / avail the services through them! DEWA’s app is one of the few exceptions through which you can first check your current bill and then be led to its website to pay the same. This made me think about the ‘real’ additional value most of these apps provide to their users. I believe a mobile version of the entity’s website might be good enough to provide such information on the move. Another big exception is the iPad app developed by Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Through this app, the lawyers and other parties can access the eJustice system of the ministry and use its wide variety of court-related services; such as: checking on court sessions calendar. I tried the app at the ministry’s stand but it’s not available yet on the App Store. MoJ team said it should be launched soon. Here is a photo of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai listening to a brief about the app from the MoJ team (Mr. Abdullah Al Majid and Mr. Mohammed Elbadawi).
The other issue I noticed on most of these apps is the design and app architecture! As I can see, this is a problem that has been inherited from the entities’ websites. In most of the apps I reviewed, even those with some good services, the priority in navigation is given to sections like: entity news, vision and mission! I consider the design of apps as an opportunity (and a challenge!) for government to practice the “citizen-centered” philosophy that most – if not all – of them consider a key value in designing and delivering eGovernment related services and initiatives. It should be easy to understand that knowing the entity’s vision is not a good enough incentive for a citizen to download an app! To conclude, I understand how difficult it is for government entities to resist the attraction of having their own “iPhone” app. However, I believe government entities should be more serious about clearly articulating the value such apps would add to the public and the entity itself, and how these apps are positioned among the wider portfolio of digital communication and marketing tools/channels including the entity’s website (desktop and mobile) and social media. If you want to check out some of these app, you can find a complied list of them on Government.ae portal.