Putting mobile technology into a government policy perspective

Kevin Noonan, Research Director, Public Sector, Ocum

Mobile devices have captured the imagination of the general public and business leaders alike. Mobile technology is often viewed as all about a personal experience and personal productivity. However, if we look at mobile only from that perspective, we may overlook what has become one of the big social realignments of our time. Mobile has created a massive realignment in the way we communicate and derive business value.

The sheer scale of this change has created its own opportunities for governments to deliver more productive and innovative government services, and also to rethink some of the boundaries between the traditional roles of government and the community.

Mobile is enabling one of the big social realignments of our time

In October, Time Magazine published an article: The Case for Optimism, written by former US President Bill Clinton. Taking a world view, Clinton listed five areas where there has been concrete, measurable, and reproducible progress in advancing the cause of humanity. Mobile technology was listed by him as the number one technology contribution. Clinton went on to outline the significant social potential resulting from the massive take-up of mobile technology, even in third-world countries.

Mobile technology is breaking down the digital divide as we have come to know it. The case was made even more starkly in a 2012 World Bank report: Maximising Mobile. The report found: “Relatively cheap commodity devices are crossing social barriers between rich and poor. With some six billion mobile subscriptions now in use worldwide, about three-quarters of humanity has access to a mobile phone.

Mobiles are arguably the most ubiquitous modern technology – in some developing countries, more people have access to a mobile phone than to clean water, a bank account, or even electricity”.

In September 2011, Ovum foreshadowed the significance of this shift in our report: The Rise of the Digital Citizen. It discussed the long-term impact on corporate and government service delivery.

However, the change at a community-wide level has not stopped there. In the relatively short time since general availability, smartphones have experienced high take-up rates. A growing app-based culture now sets the scene for much more sophisticated interactions between government and the community. Changing attitudes to the capabilities of personal technology are set to have a profound impact on our everyday lives.

The digital divide has changed from technology to connectivity

Today, mobile is building technology bridges between rich and poor, young and old. Given the right conditions and well placed support, age need not be a barrier to the take-up of technology. For example, the Australian federal government’s Broadband for Seniors program has been successful in putting Internet kiosks into community centers, retirement villages, and nursing facilities.

The key to change through online services is not so much about the attributes of a particular technology, but the availability of that technology across the population. It is the ubiquity of both availability and access that has become the real game-changer.

Mobile is challenging existing government service delivery models

Traditionally, government services have been transaction driven, triggered by specific events. Transaction-based services are built on the premise that service delivery channels are complex and expensive to run. The simplicity and immediacy of mobile technology can now provide opportunities to reassess that paradigm.

Interactions can be based more on a conversational contact than through discrete interactions. A conversational contact model means government can empower citizens to better manage their own circumstances. Mobile technology puts more processing power quite literally in the hands of the government client, and creates new options for shifting the service delivery boundaries between government and citizens.

The old model of government was high-tech government and low-tech citizen. The new model is high-tech government and even higher-tech citizen. This is not because government is in any way remiss in delivering services. A typical government agency must consider privacy, security, legacy systems, and adherence to government policy. The citizen can just go out and buy a new computer.

These are big differences in the operating paradigms for government and citizen. There are significant opportunities but also significant challenges. These challenges should not be underestimated. However, the first step is to move beyond a simple commodity perspective of mobile technology, and recognize the possibilities for change.

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