There’s an App for That State Service

By: - May 23, 2013 12:00 am

After a long day of slogging through the woods, Arkansas hunters used to have to check in their game at the nearest mom-and-pop establishment. At the end of the season, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff would drive around the state to collect the paperwork.

Times have changed: Now Arkansas hunters can use a Game and Fish Commission app on their smartphones to upload the information immediately, allowing the state to enforce hunting regulations and manage game populations in real time.

The state’s hunting and fishing app was the first of its kind when it launched in 2010, but now at least 10 state natural resources agencies have their own versions. In addition to checking in game, there are apps that allow sportsmen to purchase licenses, find fishing holes, and get real-time reports from other hunters and fishermen.

But hunting and fishing is only the beginning: In the last several years states, have rolled out apps to help people find tourist attractions, take practice driver’s tests, locate polling places and much more.

Many of the apps are included in a new catalog compiled by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). NASCIO researchers already have loaded about 160 apps into the catalog, and state officials from around the country are expected to add hundreds more in the coming months.

The goal of the catalog is to spread the word and allow states to borrow ideas, according to Brenda Decker, president of NASCIO and the chief information officer of Nebraska. “A lot of them are completely open to having [their app] be transferred to other states so that they can use it, for absolutely no cost,” she said.

Most of the applications are free for citizens to download, and the costs to the states are minimal. Some states use existing staff to develop their apps, while others partner with private companies or piggyback on work done by other states.

Here is a sampling of apps from the catalog:

  • Utah Professional License Lookup: Allows consumers to quickly verify that service providers who need a state license actually have one. Professions include electricians, dentists, counselors, radiologists, architects, acupuncturists, physicians, veterinarians, plumbers and funeral service providers.
  • Nebraska Capitol Live: Citizens can track bills as they move through the legislative process and live-stream legislative hearings and debates.
  • Report a Pest: The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s app allows concerned nature-lovers to report sightings of suspected invasive species. The app asks users to upload a pest report with a photo and GPS information.
  • Mississippi Blues Trail: One of a number of state apps designed to attract and aid tourists, this app helps visitors map out an itinerary for a pilgrimage of key spots in the history of blues. The app also includes historical information, musician bios and videos of historically significant blues performances.
  • Ready TN: The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s app provides GPS-based information about emergency alerts and warnings, road closures, shelter availability and local contacts for use in any type of emergency or natural disaster. 
  • Yes Virginia: The Virginia Economic Development Partnership uses this app to woo businesses considering a location change or looking to expand by showcasing available commercial properties in Virginia. The app allows business owners to compare Virginia with other states on various measures meant to gauge “business friendliness,” including corporate tax burdens and rankings from Forbes.
  • Oh, Ranger! VT State Parks: Provides information for state park visitors. Outdoor enthusiasts can search by location and their preferred activities, including picnicking, caving, climbing, golfing, fishing, boating, camping, bird watching and horseback riding.

Helping States And Citizens

The apps help state governments as well as citizens. In Arkansas, state biologists use the real-time data generated by the state’s hunting and fishing app to determine whether to close off particular locations to hunters or shorten hunting seasons to protect the deer.

Unlike the old paper-based system, the app quickly reveals discrepancies in the information that hunters and fishermen submit, allowing conservation officers to investigate immediately when they suspect somebody is breaking the rules. “We had an individual try to check in a deer in the name of his 18-month-old son,” said Game and Fish Commission spokesman Randy Zellers.

Most of the apps in NASCIO’s current catalog are “native apps” that must be downloaded onto a device, but many states are also using “mobile web apps” that look the same but which people can access by going to a website. “It depends on how often the user wants to be accessing the service,” said Nolan Jones, director of eGovernment innovation at NIC, a company that has developed both types of apps for dozens of state agencies. “They’re not likely to be downloading an app to their phone that they’re only going to be using once.”

For example, the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs offers businesses a mobile web app they can use to file annual reports and immediately download important documents they might need for loans or leases.  By contrast, the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s new commuting app is native: It allows users to program their commuting routes and alerts them about delays, construction projects and accidents. It was downloaded 100,000 times in its first three months.

Some states are also using apps to improve their internal operations. Indiana has so many apps in use or under development for agency use that it has launched a statewide internal app store and trained developers in every agency on technical specifications.

One of Indiana’s most successful internal apps tracks and coordinates the work of technicians who provide IT support for users in the Indiana Capitol complex and about 600 remote locations throughout the state.

It takes technicians an average of two minutes to report back to the central office on their work, and the office uses that information and GPS-based data about the work of other techs to make decisions about where to dispatch them next. The technicians say the app has cut their travel time significantly. 

“The dispatchers don’t have to call two or three people to see who is closest (to a state office that needs tech support),” said Paul Baltzell, chief information officer of Indiana. “It offers us the ability to respond quicker.”

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Melissa Maynard

Melissa Maynard oversees the Pew state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource, which helps policymakers understand fiscal, economic, and demographic trends affecting their states by tracking tax revenue, reserves, employment rates, Medicaid spending, and other issues important to long-term fiscal health.