There is something that has always surprised me as a government analyst. When we do surveys, online or otherwise, respondents always rate “mobile technology” amongst the very top when it comes to what matters to government agencies. However, our government team receives relatively few inquiries on this topic while, looking at inquiry data, our colleagues who deal with mobile and wireless technology across any industry are asked questions about few, quite straightforward topics, such as mobile email, device to mobilize employees and investments in wireless infrastructure.
This seems to indicate a fair amount of interest but a remarkable lack of strategy. Up to a year ago we would get some inquiries about “mobile government” (or m-government), i.e. service delivery over the mobile phone. On the other hand, besides some of the notification or payment services based on SMS and the ability to access some government portals through a phone browser, there is little left. The only area of constituent-centric service where mobile technology seems to play a critical role is public safety: mass notification and location-based emergency calling clearly yield a great value to people.
But the whole idea that individuals wish to access their government service anywhere at any time is a bit of a fallacy. Indeed there are cases where accessing information while on the move makes a lot of sense: accessing your health record while queueing for the physician, looking at your most recent tax record when you are discussing financial investments in a bank, reading reliable traffic information or when the next bus will come at a particular location, and more. On the other hand, so-called “transactional” services are less important. I suspect that many have gone through the exercise of trying a business case for mobile government service – something they should have done for some of the more traditional e-government services that are now severely underutilized: the outcome is probably behind the apparent lack of interest in mobile devices as service delivery channels. On the other hand, we expect a surge of interest in the use of mobile technology to mobilize the workforce, and make it more effective and efficient.
So, can we say that the bottom line is that the importance of mobile government in citizen-facing services is not even close to what many expected it to be? Is this going to remain a sellers’ market, with technology in search of a problem to solve?