The project has been so successful that Suffolk is now looking to introduce app programming into the county’s schools.
The seven new apps, which make it easier for people to check if their school is open in bad weather, contact their local councillor and speak with the council via social networks are part of the county council’s plan to make its services more accessible to Suffolk people – and save the authority money at the same time.
Councillor Jane Storey, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member responsible for finance and IT, said:
“The way local people have come forward and helped us develop these apps so quickly shows just how much interest there is for this kind of thing.
“This is all about making it easier for people to get what they need from the council and ensuring that contact doesn’t interfere in their already busy lives.
“By bringing together all the ideas and talent we have in Suffolk, we’ve been able to create something that can really make a difference.”
The ‘app development day’ in June saw around 60 members of the public with an interest in developing mobile technology meet at a council building in Ipswich to design and create the apps.
17 year old Thomas O’Brien, from Woodbridge School near Ipswich, won top prize after designing the school closure apps. Because of what he achieved on the day, Thomas was subsequently offered a contract with global IT company Jadu – and is now their youngest software engineer.
“Before the app development day, I’d only had a bit of computer programming experience. But when it came to it, I took a really simple idea and tried to make something that would make life easier for lots of people.
“I can’t quite believe how much my idea has taken off following the app development day. I’ve now got a contract with an international IT company and my work will, hopefully, make a difference to real people.”
Following the success of the mobile app development day and the feedback received from teachers and school children, Suffolk is now working to introduce app programming skills into schools.
Sally Rundell, Suffolk County Council’s assistant director for learning and improvement, said:
“Our children and young people are living in a world where digital technologies are everywhere and this isn’t going to change – we need to ensure that they continue to receive the best possible education to equip them for their futures.
“Working with Jadu, under the umbrella of our Raising the Bar programme, will give Suffolk young people the opportunity to develop communication and programming skills through an exciting and innovative interface. I am delighted that Jadu have chosen Suffolk schools to trial and develop Weejot for use in education.”
Suffolk’s app development day is thought to be a UK first for a local council and comes as demand for council services via mobile apps is increasing.
According to internet research company eMarketer, an estimated 17 million people in the UK will go online using mobile devices in 2012, and that number will rise to more than 20 million by 2015.
Statistics show that in Suffolk, the number of people wanting to access council services using their mobile phones or tablet computers is increasing rapidly. 7% of the 2.3m visits to Suffolk County Council’s website in 2011/12 were made on mobile devices. This is up from 1.5% in the previous year.
Suraj Kika, Jadu’s CEO, said:
“Countries are just like businesses. They need to innovate to grow. If there is a way the UK will lead the technology sector and innovate to stimulate economic growth, it's by encouraging software development in schools and build the next generation of developers. weejot.com is how we intend to put mobile web app development on the curriculum and on the map. We’re very serious about that.”
Suffolk’s approach to developing apps has been recognised on a national level.
Denise McDonagh, director of IT for the Home Office and G-Cloud programme director, said:
“We are thrilled that one of the first G-Cloud procurements has had such a positive and dramatic effect. The impact that this initiative could be transformational for schools and their approach to teaching of ICT.”