The rapid embrace of computer tablets in and outside of government has escalated the debate among federal agencies over the merits of designing native applications for tablets.

But if the Government Printing Office offers any indication, the prevailing approach is expected to be for agencies to channel development resources into applications that recognize and adapt to a variety of mobile devices, rather than concentrating on specific products, according to Lisa LaPlant, GPO’s lead program planner for programs strategy and technology (pictured above center).

GPO has already rolled out several mobile applications that allow citizens and federal workers to access a growing volume of federal information, including data contained in the 2013 Federal Budget and the Congressional Record.

GPO released an updated application in March that provides an expanded mobile guide to members of the 112th Congress, now featuring biographies and photographs of members and information on how to find their offices on Capitol Hill. Traffic to the mobile website guide has quadrupled, from 4,000 visitors a week to more than 17,000, following the expansion and has resulted in increased traffic for other mobile apps, LaPlant said Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Federal Senior Management Conference, being held in Cambridge, Md.

The Congressional Record, in contrast to LaPlant’s general advice, began as a native Apple iPad application at the request of Congress. It was designed as a way to give members of Congress and their staffs portable access to daily proceedings — and an alternative to carrying around reams of paper — and makes it easier to find proceedings by date or by chamber.

GPO, however, is endeavoring to take a longer term view of how it disseminates information, LaPlant said. In the end, GPO’s primary goal-and her advice to government leaders attending the conference-is to “know your stakeholders and customers, and look at what will make their lives easier.”

To that end, GPO is not only helping agencies preserve and publish government information, but also providing a service to agencies who want to develop mobile tools for disseminating that information, relying in part on a network of developers GPO contracts with, she said.

However, agencies intent on disseminating information to employees and the public also need to “think of documents not just as text, but as networks,” said David Rogers, (pictured above right) chief technology officer of Mobilegov and a research associate at the University of Central Florida, who also spoke on the panel.

“The network of readers,” who often add information, or turn government information into more valuable instruments, “is just as important as the document itself,” Rogers said.

Rogers suggested that agencies need to look beyond the debate over native device applications and concentrate instead on ways to improve workflow processes in developing mobile applications.

He cited how an Army medical unit was able to reduce the time it takes to perform a diagnostic process, from four to five minutes to less than a minute, by developing an application that effectively uses available information and makes it easier to arrive at decisions using mobile devices.

He advised agency executives that the wiser approach to mobile application development was to focus on areas where there are large expenses that could be reduced by rethinking certain processes and designed easier-to-use, mobile applications.

One example of how front end applications are making it easy to make sense of large volumes of data can be seen on, according to Ramani Vaidyanathan, program director of SAP Public Services.

Vaidyanathan (pictured above left) pointed to tools that let the public as well as agencies quickly identify where federal funds have produced the greatest number of jobs, by accessing and presenting the results of queries in ways that are easy for non-technical users.

He urged those in the audience not only to continue focusing on applications for an increasingly mobile public and workforce, but just as importantly, to concentrate on the quality and standardization of the data that will be processed by those applications.