There is no mobile government without a mobile citizen
- By John Landwehr
- Apr 03, 2013
As each week's announcements make clear, mobility is more pervasive in the public sector than ever. Examples abound of soldiers benefiting from mobile devices in the battlefield, agencies ditching paper in favor of tablets, or simply the way mobile devices are expanding the use of telework by government employees.
Evidence also supports that expanded use of mobile devices by government agencies is improving productivity.
A recent survey by the Mobile Work Exchange -- formerly the Telework Exchange -- finds that 95 percent of federal employees believe access to mobile devices improved their work, and that remote access to work enabled by mobile devices translates into an estimated $28 billion in annual productivity gains.
For all of the gains agencies are making with employee mobility, it is critical that the mobile citizen is not overlooked. Agencies are in fact dedicating resources to reaching the mobile citizen, and have developed and deployed some innovative and useful apps to provide citizens with information and greater transparency into government processes. However, a fully empowered mobile citizen is still a nascent vision. For example, a citizen would be hard pressed to find, fill out and submit a government health services form on their smartphone without having to download or print it.
Activating and better communicating with the mobile citizen is key to a successful mobile government. Below are some strategies for agencies to consider to more effectively empower the mobile citizen.
Recognize demographic shifts
More than half of U.S. consumers use smartphones, which speaks loudly to the need by agencies to think "mobile first." But agencies are increasingly recognizing that mobile interaction must go beyond content and extend to necessary citizen services.
This is a result of how reliant citizens have become on mobile devices at the expense of traditional communications tools such as landline phones and personal computers. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the first half of 2012, "wireless only" households grew to 35.8 percent. And in lower income demographics, for example, other studies show that entire households may rely on mobile devices as their sole portal to the Internet.
The bottom line is that mobile devices represent a critical path to success for agencies providing services to citizens. A benefits agency must consider that it may be difficult to reach a citizen via landline with important information, or expect that a beneficiary needing to download forms to receive benefits will have a broadband connection, PC, and printer. As a result, agencies should continue to embrace technology that can activate as large a share of the population as possible. For example, technology solutions emerging that allow citizens to find, fill out and submit forms via smartphones and tablet devices -- and then track the status of this submitted form through the entire process -- can make it far easier for agencies to deliver services and citizens to access them.
Integrate rather than separate priorities
Empowering government employees and citizens with mobility is not a mutually exclusive exercise, and each has its own challenges. Incorporating mobility into the government workforce invites complexities, ranging from mobile device and application security to effective management of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) usage. The Telework Exchange survey also finds that 64 percent of respondents use their own smartphone for work purposes. And while 55 percent of federal employees who use smartphones or tablets for work bring their own, just 11 percent indicate their agency has an official BYOD policy.
Citizens, on the other hand, will be accessing government services from a broad array of mobile devices, networks and platforms -- erecting challenges for agencies to create a single, consistent experience. These are the just some of the policy and management considerations that agencies are laboring their way through, and rather than viewing government employees and citizens in two distinct silos, there are benefits to be had from a more integrated approach.
An illustration of integrated priorities is how a citizen can benefit when an agency streamlines their internal forms management process where workers can digitally process forms and provide automated status updates to the citizen much the same way shipment of a package can be tracked from pickup to delivery.
Unify the citizen experience
There are many motivations for an agency to enhance citizen communications, chief among them improving the citizen experience and creating a more optimal, cost-efficient channel that doesn't tie up agency resources and budget.
The variety of interactions between a citizen seeking an agency service can result in a black hole of thousands of forms. Finding the right form, submitting it and tracking its progress can be a daunting task. But for these agencies to remain efficient and cost effective it's critical that this experience does not break down and result in added burdens to an agency call center or brick-and-mortar locations.
Agencies must place a priority on solutions that unify the experience so that citizens can use their laptop, desktop, phone or tablet to easily navigate through the forms available, download the right form, fill it out and send it back. And regardless of the device that they are on, the citizen can have the same, consistent user experience.
Consider alternatives to custom app development
Government agencies, like all organizations, face very real budget pressures that can make the costs and lengthy time-to-market of custom app development prohibitive. Rather than a strategy focused on building out multiple mobile apps each tasked for a specific function or service, agencies may find it more feasible to pursue a "build once, deploy anywhere" methodology, where a single template is leveraged across multiple channels. By doing so, agencies can extend content and forms out to mobile devices at a fraction of the cost and effort required for custom mobile app builds. Not only does the agency mitigate the initial costs of building a mobile app, it also reduces the costs for ongoing maintenance and support.
Agencies are just beginning to realize the cost, productivity and operational benefits of mobilizing the government workforce. Extending these efforts to the mobile citizen will further enhance the gains mobile can deliver to agencies, employees and citizens.
John Landwehr is VP and public sector CTO, Adobe.