Download a copy of the Mobile Applications Advisory doc format of Mobile Applications  

FROM:          Jason Snyder, Chief Technology Officer, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

DATE:           April 1, 2013

RE:               Advisory Memorandum - Mobile Applications


The Commonwealth Chief Technology Officer is issuing this Advisory Memorandum in response to questions raised relative to the development and use of Mobile Applications for Secretariat/Agency deployment.  The Information Technology Division (ITD) is currently involved in a variety of related ongoing efforts geared towards providing mechanisms for delivering useful web-based content.  This approach directly supports access to the growing and evolving community of “mobile devices” that are rapidly becoming the internet device of choice for (1) agency users (and therefore the preferred device for working remotely and/or accessing e-mail); and (2)  the Commonwealth’s constituents.  The Commonwealth’s constituents’ use of such devices has increased exponentially and constituents expect that the Commonwealth has tailored its app technology for interacting with state government. 

As part of ITD’s effort to understand the best way to support content, applications, and access requirements associated with increased mobile device usage, ITD reviewed three different real implementation use cases in the Commonwealth, as well as conducted a Proof of Concept (POC) study that tested one possible “mobile web application” approach.  In addition, ITD reviewed current industry best practice and surveyed Secretariats and Agencies.  Based on the POC findings,  current industry practices, Secretariat/Agency feedback, and business owner feedback, ITD advisees Secretariats/Agencies to consider the following key points when choosing an approach (e.g. a mobile enterprise application platform or other approach) for publishing Commonwealth web based content in a mobile-friendly fashion.

Mobile Web Applications:

Web content delivery can be published in a variety of mobile approaches.  The POC that ITD conducted focused exclusively on implementing “mobile web applications”.  “Hybrid mobile applications” or “native applications” were not explored as part of the POC’s scope. 

Proof of Concept Commonwealth based Research:

ITD met with three implementation groups in the Commonwealth that have published mobile-friendly applications, specifically: Massachusetts Legislature, the City of Boston, and the Mass.gov team.  These case studies afforded ITD three perspectives relative to the manner in which organizations are actively working to deliver Commonwealth content in effective, mobile-friendly ways.

To illustrate one of the three implementation groups, the Commonwealth’s Mass.gov group recently debuted their ‘responsive design’ approach to rendering Mass.gov web content in a mobile-friendly manner.  This design allows for any agency content hosted on the Mass.gov website to present an adjusted view of the content when accessed by a mobile device’s browser.  While this approach is not designed to be usable outside of the Mass.gov environment; it offers wide reaching value to all “portal-ized” agencies.

Proof of Concept Implementation:

ITD stood up a temporary Mobile Application Platform environment for the purpose of testing the viability of a low barrier approach to supporting “mobile web applications”.  This environment relied on existing web enabling infrastructure such as the Enterprise XML Gateways and on a Windows 2008 Server VM for the deployment of a full web application stack.  The POC environment took advantage of open standards and well-established, freely available open source frameworks, such as JQuery Mobile, Symfony2 (PHP framework) and Twitter Bootstrap.  Two scenarios were deployed:

  • Static Content - ITD employee web site mock-up
    • Mobile-friendly emulation of web site for ITD employees which included links to the existing Mass.gov web site.
    • This implementation made it possible to demonstrate how HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 tools & technologies could be leveraged without having access to a full stack web server.
  • Searchable Content (State Park Maps) -  “RESTful” Web Service
    • Park map data was manually collected from DCR’s web site: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/trails.htm and placed in an XML document hosted in the Enterprise QA XML Gateway, emulating access to a queryable database.
    • This implementation also made it possible to demonstrate how HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 tools & technologies could be leveraged without having access to a full stack web server.

Recommendations:

Mobile Enterprise Application Platform

The current Mobile Enterprise Application Platform marketplace is still maturing.  In light of this information, ITD does not recommend Secretariats/Agencies pursue a singular Commonwealth Enterprise solution for a mobile application platform until the marketplace has matured.  As described by Gartner’s William Clark, “Mobile AD entered the mainstream for software development during 2011 to 2012. Yet, the technologies, vendors and business drivers shaping it will remain in a state of flux through 2015. Platform immaturity will remain, as there is no clear industry consensus yet relative to how a multi-paradigm/multiplatform tool should work (e.g., whether the IDE model is structured properly, or another solution is needed), and new technologies such as speech recognition, augmented reality browsers, new sensors and new OS APIs reportedly will be added to the tool mix.”  

Given that ITD does not recommend Secretariats/Agencies to pursue a singular Commonwealth Enterprise solution for a mobile application platform until the marketplace has matured, ITD advises Secretariats/Agencies to collaborate with ITD if exploring any Mobile Application Platform.

Once the Mobile Enterprise Application Platform market stabilizes and clear market leaders emerge; ITD will re-evaluate whether or not to recommend standardizing on a single or selection of platforms.

Mobile Application Development

When selecting or developing a new application solution, there are mobility implications. Therefore, Secretariats/Agencies are advised to:

  • Consider mobile access as a requirement for all new solutions.  A platform roll-out without a mobile component is missing a significant channel of access and should be discouraged unless requirements drive one to not include mobile access.
  • Use web-based standards wherever possible over proprietary, native software development kits (SDK’s) to minimize device or OS dependence.
    • HTML5 with JQuery/JQuery Mobile, Dojo/Dojo Mobile or Responsive
    • In cases where highly sensitive data is not involved, inclusion of REST (in alignment with ETRM standards) as an alternative paradigm for the creation of web services (in addition to SOAP-based web services) is suggested.
  • Conduct thorough testing of their own internal critical systems with Mobile Application Platform approaches that might be under consideration, including acceptance of the risks that are introduced before considering implementing a mobile application platform.

Concerns regarding this advisory can be sent to: standards@state.ma.us