Blog post

What Happened to Mobile Government?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 06, 2009 | 3 Comments


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?

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  • Jack McCoy says:

    I’m sitting at my Toyota Dealer Customer Service Waiting room while getting a new battery installed and reading your article on my notebook PC wirelessly connected to the dealer’s wifi service for customedrs. I just did a pass of my e-mails and sent a document to myself that I will work on later from either my home pc or this notebook. My cell phone rang with an office issue to deal with.

    This is becomming a broadband driven economy and work environment – government transactions included but largly not availabel. Your right – strategic planning is needed and forcasting the effects of changing technology and work habets are problimatic but needed. Current and emerging use not history might be the only predictors. If Gartner is quantifying this and has forcasting techniques for emmediate future as an input to strategic planning this research would help in scenario planning decision making in this most dynamic area of technology.

    Jack McCoy
    CIO Town of Manchester
    Manchester, Connecticut

  • Thanks for your comment Jack. You are somewhat proving my point. You are mobilized as a staff member, and this is what we see happening for several clients. In this respect, there is no real difference from how people work in other industries. Where we do see a lack of strategy (or interest?) is on the service delivery side. Of course citizens sitting at a car dealer or at a Starbucks may wish to connect to a government portal using their wireless connection: but how frequently would that occur, and how important would it be to provide the same level of access on different portable devices, with a different form factor (such as a much smaller screen)?

  • Peter Tobbin says:

    I was writing a research proposal on From e-Government to m-Government; when i came across your comments. I feel that m-goverment cannot be viewed independently from e-government i.e. not as a separate policy from an e-government implementation but as an extension.
    As an extension to e-government it becomes very important to developing countries in particular where the pc / internet penetration is quite low and the use of mobile phones high. government to citizen interaction would be far reaching if more mobile applications are created for certain government services. the size of the screen becomes irrelevant if users have no other choice.

    In recent elections in Ghana, one of the presidential candidate used an automatic mobile call with a pre recorded message for campaigning which went down very well. The percentage of Internet users in Ghana may be a little under 20% with over 60% mobile users. i believe that an extension of e-gov to m-government is the most feasible way to save the developing world from another wastage of resources on information technology.