A new survey suggests apps lose value and become costly if they perform slowly, fail altogether or are overwhelmed with users. But third-party monitoring could be the solution for to save money and ensure reliability of increasingly essential government agency apps.
The Government Business Council’s “Industry Insights” survey noted that agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Veterans Affairs ran into trouble when apps were overwhelmed and shut down. Such instances, GBC notes, undermines the agency’s mission and public trust.
But the outside monitoring of the application could have saved time, and more importantly, money, according to Paul Christman, vice president for federal marketing at Quest Software (now part of Dell) which sponsored the GBC survey.
“It’s no good to detect and diagnose, you have to resolve,” he said. “You have to do this across the entire application. We don’t care what the application does, we just watch the transactions and monitor every single aspect of it.”
Federal agencies themselves have monitoring, but often times they can see one aspect of an application that doesn’t work, but not the entire picture, he said.
For example, the survey found that the VA education benefits system for the post 9/11 GI Bill was slow and flawed because the VA did not follow the GAO’s recommendation that it incorporate an “oversight tool” into the application. A monitoring system could have helped decrease response times and implementation of new benefit capabilities.
The survey also cited the problems that OPM had in October 2011 with “Jobs 3.0″ the federal hiring tool.
“The site was met by an overwhelming number of complaints, up to 4,000 a day, on issues such as incorrect search results, timeouts, and lost data,” the report said.
It turned out the problem was in faulty “caching” of data, which blocked 86% of first-time users and rejected some users who were blocked for days at a time. The problem took months, and about $1 million, to repair, and left job seekers frustrated.
Dana Grinshpan, research manager with the Government Business Council, said the survey showed some good examples of how to overcome challenges.
“I think one of the best things coming out of these case studies is an opportunity for other government executives to learn what’s being produced and how they work,” she said, noting that monitoring can save agencies money in the long run and make their applications more user friendly.
Christman compares applications to traffic on a highway. Capacity is not built for peak loads all the time, because the application “highway” isn’t at capacity all the time. Meanwhile, users, like commuters, are trying to figure out how to navigate the system and avoid bottlenecks.
“What we are trying to do is give people the tools to understand how long the ‘commute’ takes and what they can do to shorten the ‘commute,’” he said.
If a consumer is turned off by a bad acting app, he or she is probably, by inference, turned off by the government agency or, in fact, the entire government. And the agency may not know there is a problem unless someone takes the time to complain. But it’s more likely if they can’t get through on an app that they simply abandon the site and go elsewhere.
Christman said outside companies doing the monitoring can reduce the time it takes to solve an issue. “Users don’t care that the IT guy has isolated the problem, they care if it gets fixed,” he said.