Almost every week, a public sector agency in Asia releases a new mobile app. The logic is simple: most citizens have a smartphone, and they increasingly rely on them for information.

But not all government apps are equal. Some are barely – if ever – used, while others prove remarkably popular. Our new series, My Favourite Government App, profiles the best ones across Asia.

For the first, GovInsider spoke with Damien Lee, Assistant Government Chief Information Officer of Hong Kong, about his favourite: GovHK notifications.

Why did you choose this app?

With the advancement of mobile technology, the number of mobile phones users in Hong Kong has been increasing. Our mobile penetration rate has exceeded 228%.

As providing services through mobile channels are gaining currency, the Hong Kong Government has been actively introducing mobile apps to provide public services on the go. As at September 2015, there are 117 government mobile apps covering a diverse range of subjects, including traffic, leisure, health, education, news, etc.

GovHK Notifications is the first-ever joined-up government mobile app. Further, users of this app are immediately informed of new messages because they will pop up on smart devices through the “Push Notifications” function.

The mobile app has been well-received by the public: since its launch in August 2012, it has attracted over 690 000 downloads. It is one of the most popular government mobile apps.

How does it provide a necessary service to users?

Before the launch of GovHK Notifications, the public could only rely on traditional channels such as television and radio announcements, websites etc to receive important and urgent information.

With GovHK Notifications, the public can be updated promptly on important and urgent government information without having to search for them.

GovHK Notifications also provides immediate access to different types of important and urgent information on a single app. There are 18 categories of alerts, including air pollution alerts, food alerts, weather warnings, special traffic news, etc.

Users can choose the types of information and the exact levels of alerts they need. For example, users choosing to receive alerts on weather warnings can further choose which weather warnings they intend to receive, like tropical cyclone warnings. They can even decide which level) of tropical cyclone warning to receive.

What was the process of building it?

GovHK Notifications was developed by OGCIO (Office of the Government Chief Information Officer) in 2012. It took around a year to build. One of our first steps in building the app was to approach various departments to identify messages that would suitable for inclusion.

We then engaged external parties to review the overall design, security, and functionality of the app. For instance, we invited the Hong Kong Blind Union to review the app in terms of its accessibility. A security risk assessment was also conducted by an external consultant to ensure there is no loophole in the app.

How did the app develop according to user needs?

The scope of message covered by the app has been increasing since the app launched in 2012. We will continue to add more categories of messages to the app to provide more comprehensive information to the public.

What are the most interesting functions of the app?

While the Push Notifications function is a convenient tool bringing to the immediate attention of users any time-critical messages, we are mindful that this function would create disturbance at certain times, such as sleeping hours.

To cater for this, we have added a “suspension of notifications” function. Users can choose a one-off suspension of notifications for a specified period, or set a daily period for suspension.

Also, GovHK Notifications is designed with a sharing function, where users can share the messages through SMS, emails, and social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

How do you think this service could develop over time?

GovHK Notifications was first launched with nine categories of alerts or notifications. The number of categories has gradually increased to 18. We will continue to expand the scope of alerts and information covered by the app according to users’ needs.