The U.S. Army is expected to open a new mobile applications store as part of a pilot program designed to offer a more flexible way to develop and buy software for the government. The online store will provide a space where users can request specific tools and where participating developers can quickly provide or create a product to fill respective needs without getting bogged down in a complex and time consuming acquisitions process.
The new pilot will be a six-month effort that will support the Army’s intelligence service and the potentially intelligence agencies.
At heart of the program is an online applications development technology called Appsmart, which forms the architecture of the store. Developed by the Raytheon company, it can store a variety of applications for mobile or desktop devices, from widgets to Google mobile services, explained Larri Rosser Appsmart’s chief engineer.
While the federal government has operating mobile applications stores for a while, its attempts to develop and deploy them have often tripped over concerns about security, policy management and acquisition control-who’s running the process, she said.
Appsmart is designed to solve those problems while keeping the characteristics that make the commercial mobile marketplace attractive: low risk, speed and innovation.
“We want to keep what’s great about the commercial marketplace, but we want to do the things that will allow the federal government to do them in a reasonable way,” she said.
Over the next six months, Raytheon will run a series of experiments to test store components such as development, money and program management tools.
The first experiment will load all of the Army’s widgets onto the site for users to rate. While this might seem simple, it is the first time that the Army will know which widgets are useful from a users’ perspective, said Mark Bigham, vice president of Raytheon’s Business Development, Defense and Civil Mission Solutions division.
The pilot also allows the Army to move the acquisition system forward to get the apps it needs, Bigham said, who elaborates on Appsmart in the video above.
To keep things innovative, Raytheon wants to have third party developers contribute applications to the store. These applications would be vetted through a qualification and testing process before they are made available to DOD and government users, Rosser said.
The Appsmart site also has an online collaboration space where DOD and intelligence community personnel can post their application needs.
There are no formal requirements or processes restricting what users want or how developers respond to them. “In a lot of ways it’s a great equalizer for small business because there’s no giant barrier to market entry,” said Bigham.
When an app is submitted to the site, it goes to a clearinghouse that checks the application for viruses and other malicious code to ensure its safety. Raytheon can also provide additional evaluations, either automatically or manually. These evaluations can range from business and IT evaluations.
Some of the military services also have a manual evaluation process, so Appsmart can send new apps to individual service evaluation systems for attention. At the end of the process, each application receives a final approval before it is released into the store. “We have a certain amount of control there,” Rosser said.
The site allows users to purchase those services in smaller increments. So instead of buying a one year term of service, users can buy a one month or one week term of service, Rosser said. The goal is to make the effort profitable for the people developing the applications and to save the government money. Bigham added that the program’s NGA and Army customers believe that the pilot has the promise of substantial savings for applications through licensing and pay-on-demand.
Appsmart features a contracting officer’s dashboard that shows how much money has been put into a particular account and how much has been spent and what type and how many apps have been purchased. This allows contract officers to keep tabs on what’s been spent and to do any necessary reporting for costs, she said.
A variety tools are available through the store that allow it to be more convenient for developers and the government to use such as applications development kits and standards templates. This is important because it allows the site to “become a live thing,” Rosser said. Instead of a static site, Raytheon hopes to have a dynamic place that will attract developers and users.
“There’s going to be competitions, there’s going to be incentive-there’s going to be reasons for people to come in and improve,” she said.
The app store software had also attracted attention from the non-DOD side of the government. Some of the interested organizations include the Library of Congress, law enforcement agencies and FEMA, Bigham said.