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There’s an app for that. And that. But not that. State lags in mobile apps

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WASHINGTON – The number of state-run mobile apps connecting citizens to government services has increased steadily in recent years, but Arizona still trails many states in its efforts to develop government-on-the-go.

A list kept by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers has more than doubled in two years, from 150 apps to about 320 nationwide. That’s about six apps per state, compared to the four Arizona currently offers.

Officials with several state agencies said they are trying to update their online presence, which includes more mobile applications or mobile-friendly websites, but it can be a costly and complicated process.

“We want to communicate with the public through technology so they can interface with the governor and the government in a way they would expect to be able to in the year 2015,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey.

The technology arena is one where governments typically lag behind the private sector, but more and more states are using mobile technology to put government services “in the palm of” citizens’ hands.

“The key is recognizing that mobile services are the way to do business today, and states are competing with the private sector,” said Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO, which compiled the apps list. “They’re competing with the consumer experience, and so I think they have to step up their game and look for opportunities to deliver these services.”

Robinson said the list, which relies on states to report their apps, is not exhaustive. While it said Arizona has only two mobile apps, both run by the Department of Health Services, there is actually a third health department app and another, run by Arizona State Parks, that were not included in the list.

The list does not include city apps, apps developed by private companies or those developed by people using public information.

Every state reported at least one app. Some, like New York, California and Virginia, have upwards of 14 apps.

They offer a variety of services, but most offer location-based help like finding the nearest polling place or choosing which state park trail to hike. Experts believe they will evolve to become more interactive, letting people register to vote or submit government forms.

“Today the majority of the apps are finding aids or spatial apps. They are ‘Where can I find farmers markets in Delaware?’” Robinson said. “But I think we’re going to see more and more complex business transactions broadening the discovery of state services.”

Ducey has made updating state services part of his economic agenda, saying a more efficient government can attract new business and help existing businesses.

“The truth is there are some parts of state government that are more up to speed and some that are not,” Scarpinato said.

He said Ducey has been meeting with state agencies to assess their “technology abilities” and to push them to move services online. The governor wants businesses and people who live in rural parts of the state to be able to access state services without having to “drive down to the Capitol.”

Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan has also prioritized updating her office’s website and accessory functions to make them “as accessible as possible to the mobile lifestyle.”

Mobile-friendly voter registration is especially important to Reagan, who has made it a goal to increase voting by 18-30 year olds, said spokesman Matt Roberts.

“It’s about making things available to those age groups on a platform they use,” Roberts said. “It’s hugely important when checking voter registration status or the nearest polling location is something that a lot of people do on their phones.”

Accessibility is also behind the Department of Health Services efforts to offer mobile apps, said Sheila Sjolander, associate director for the department’s Public Health Prevention Services at the Department of Health Services. The apps include two targeted to smoking and a third to help locate clinics.

“We want to do whatever we can to make our programs more accessible and easier to find for people,” Sjolander said.

But officials said it can be a challenge for a public agency to develop mobile apps and then come up with the funding to keep up with the rapid pace of technological development.

“Every time there’s an operating system update, some of the applications get broken or have to be redone. That is challenging for states that they have to maintain that,” said Robinson of the state CIO association.

Arizona, with a $1 billion deficit and government commitment to not raising taxes, faces increased difficulties when deciding to invest in technological advancements.

“In today’s era, where my iPhone will be outdated in six months, there needs to be an ongoing and constant effort to update government services,” Scarpinato said. “But there are challenges with the state budget. How do we best serve Arizonans while being fiscally responsible?”