Martha Lane Fox and the rise of the web app’?

A recent review of DirectGov by “Dot Com” survivor and digital thriver Martha Lane Fox caught my attention. Why? Because she’s helping raise awareness of what I do for a living — build web applications. And when Martha helps me, she also helps you, too.

Digital numbers

DirectGov is a portal-cum-directory for a whole slew of government services, initiatives and resources. What I see is a start, but there’s much, much more that can be done. Fortunately for us, Miss Fox appears to agree.

Hmm, still wondering what I’m talking about, I see. Before reading any further, you might want to have a squint at my primer on web applications, whereupon all will become clear!

By way of an abridged background, British-born Fox, founder of Last Minute, the leisure travel website, managed to retain her government advisory role, surviving the General Election defeat of the Labour Party who brought her to table in the first place. Contrast that with the departure of business “Tsar” Lord Sugar. But that’s politics, and Sugar is a Labour man, which probably explains everything.

Championing the web application, sort of

Anyway, Fox has reviewed the DirectGov collection of web-enabled services, offering several recommendations. That aside, what’s most interesting about this whole review, for me, isn’t the review itself, or even DirectGov for that matter. And the less said about the politics the better. No, what’s really interesting is that the whole idea of web-enabled services — henceforth referred to as web applications — have been pushed into the unblinking gaze of the public eye, and that of many a politician, too, I no wonder.

For a company like Octane, this is crucial, because this room to breath helps legitimize what I do for a living; which is designing and developing web applications.

At some point, the hope is that the conversation won’t start with the question: “So what is a web application anyway?” but with: “So I have all this data, fifteen members of staff divided across three different locations and I need them all to be able to manage that data. Can you do that?” Well of course I can! But right now, that conversation is some way off, and I have to scramble through that explanatory briar patch before I get to the aforementioned money question.

How does this raised awareness help you?

Good question. Firstly, at the governmental level at least, over the next few years, more and more of your transactions will be on-line. Everything from accounts being filed with Companies House, to VAT returns to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. I’m already doing this kind of thing, but there are many of you who aren’t. More crucially, your accountants probably aren’t, either.

Anyway, as time passes by, you now get the whole web thing. In time, you’ll understand the difference between a website and a web application. You’ll begin to realize there’s money to either be saved or made, and that has very direct impact on your business.

So the conversation then changes. More resources become available, more businesses like me enter the fray, and services emerge, allowing you to do things over the web that were unthinkable just three years ago, all without costing you too much money.

Your expectations are now higher because you appreciate what can be achieved, and what your business can achieve, via the web. You reap the rewards of your curiosity, just like Premier UK Venues did all those years ago when I built To Book for them.

How does a web application help save money?

Miss Fox recommended the Conservative-Democrat coalition party move a third of services onto the web:

“Shifting 30 per cent of government service delivery contacts to digital channels would deliver gross annual savings of more than £1.3bn, rising to £2.2bn if 50 per cent of contacts shifted to digital.”

So how does that work? Well, in different ways. Especially if you compare print to a web page:

“She contrasts the process of applying for a student loan, which ends with the printing out and signing of a 30-page document, with the simplicity of booking a flight.”

The fact is, print costs a lot of money. The cost is divided several ways. Firstly, there’s the initial production, which is unavoidable, irrespective of the media, then there’s the design phase, actual print and then finally delivery. Then there’s the re-prints, which becomes a constant cycle. Clearly there’s a huge argument for going paperless, which I’ve discussed previously, and is doable for some.

Work smart, go web-based, save money

Are there any other ways in which a web application help save money? To answer that, I must quote myself:

  • Automating business processes saves you time
  • Increased work capacity
  • Reduced data errors, loss and duplication
  • Work more efficiency
  • More accurate data entry
  • Save money over time (greater ROI)

In conclusion

Getting a big-up from a big industry name like Martha Lane Fox won’t happen often, so it’s up to people like me to make the most of these moments, when awareness is raised and people are just that more curious, or educated.

But these are curious times in which we live in, and right now, in spite of the hardships many are likely to endure, Octane is getting along nicely. All of which is rather prophetic really, given my earlier thoughts on how a web app’ can save a business money during a recession.

Aside from me whoring what I do to pay the bills, the core aspect of what I’m driving is that you can adopt the same perspective as myself — by striving for the precision of thought and vision to take a good long look at what you do and remove waste and refine what remains, wherever possible.

Don’t ever become complacent and believe that what you’re doing is the best you can do, there’s always room for improvement. Just ask Martha Lane Fox.

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