Mobile governments on the move
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 13, 2001
In Texas, state inspectors use handheld devices to issue violations to barbershops
on the spot. California zaps lottery, traffic and energy information to
people's personal digital assistants. Virginians can track bills through
the legislative process with hourly updates sent to their mobile device.
More and more, governments are using handheld and wireless devices to
provide more access to public data, enable employees to communicate with
each other, and give public servants, such as building inspectors and police
officers, another tool to do their jobs more efficiently.
In essence, they're becoming mobile governments, or m-governments for
Nationally, wireless Internet usage is projected to increase from 5
million to 84 million users by 2005, according to IDC. It also projected
that the mobile and remote worker population will grow from about 39 million
to about 55 million by 2004.
The buzz for wireless and mobile uses in government is "tremendous,"
said Kol Harvey, a technology consultant with accounting and consulting
firm Berry, Dunn, McNeil and Parker. He was one of three e-government experts
at a session examining mobile government during the National Electronic
Commerce Coordinating Council's annual conference in Las Vegas this week.
An NECCC workgroup also presented a white paper on the convergence of wireless
technologies and e-government.
Governments mainly use wireless and mobile devices to provide employees
with e-mail communication, Harvey said. But wireless devices are also used
in educational institutions and to provide citizen services.
Harvey's advice for governments considering mobile and wireless devices
* Start by implementing their use internally.
* If transmitting sensitive or confidential data, ensure that security
* Training employees in how to use the devices and software is paramount.
In Kentucky, state employees have been using Research in Motion Ltd.'s
BlackBerry wireless messaging devices for nearly a year. Doug Robinson with
the Governor's Office of Technology said more than 200 state employees use
the devices, which are integrated into the government's existing e-mail
accounts, and the office manages about 130,000 wireless messages per month.
Response is positive, he said, but adoption is slow, probably because
of budget tightening among the state's agencies, which must purchase the
Robinson said the devices are reliable and help improve productivity
among employees, but the wireless network coverage is poor, especially in
P.K. Agarwal, chief information officer of NIC, said a lot of promise
— as well as a lot of hype — exists in the wireless industry for mobile
technology. The promise was dampened by the economic downturn, which slowed
the deployment of higher bandwidth to handle more traffic. Also, because
there is no single wireless standard, interoperability could be a problem,
he said. And problems with other promising technologies, such as the Bluetooth
short-distance wireless technology, also hindered the adoption and integration
of mobile devices.
But Agarwal said there are three categories of applications where m-government
will make a difference. The public safety area is the "most classic and
most cost-effective" use, he said. With cell and landline phone communications
down in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, New York City officials used
BlackBerry devices to communicate critical information. The delivery of
services, such as sending updates and information to handheld devices, is
the second good use, and messaging among government employees is the third.