Mobility: The Next Model for Government Engaging with the Public

 Author(s): , Posted on August 2nd, 2012

We hear much about the impact of mobility in the workplace in terms of the freedom to work outside the office, the improved efficiency of existing business processes, and reduced IT capital costs through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) models . We also hear of the challenges of providing appropriate security measures and end-user IT support to mobile workers. But the real power of mobility is its potential to create whole new business models and offer new services and products to customers. And for a change, Government is one of the industries leading this mobile transformation in the field by embracing mobility as a means to better engage with citizens.

Overall there is tremendous enthusiasm for mobility across federal, state and local governments. Mobility is really the next model for engaging the public because it goes beyond the web browser to the mobile device as a way to catch eyeballs and create a two-way discussion with citizens.

The second annual Consumerisation of IT study, conducted for Unisys by IDC, found that 28 percent of Australian workers in enterprise organisations said they used iPhones for work purposes – while that is a healthy adoption, the global rate is even higher at 69 percent. But we Aussies up the rest of the world when it came to using tablets for work purposes – 14 percent of Aussies and 13 percent globally

However, the true power of mobility in the workplace is not just that more employees are using mobile devices for work. Yes, mobility can help improve worker productivity and provide another channel for customers to access to services, but the really exciting thing is the opportunity to better engage and collaborate with the public. This means governments can also better serve what have been traditionally underserved demographic groups in ways that were not possible with the internet because of the digital divide.

Mobility represents something which in this century is probably the most exciting evolutionary change in the way IT can help society transform itself. The public sector is at the centre of this, and what they are doing is very exciting.

Overseas, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has a mobile app that allows citizens to find out the status of their tax refunds, which is something that a lot of people want to see.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission developed an app for citizens to test their broadband connection speed via their mobile device. This is actually a great example of changing a business process to put the process of collecting information in the the hands of the public. It illustrates a new model based on public use of inexpensive mobile applications to collect information, in this case saving money that the FCC would have would have otherwise been required to spend to collect information about performance across the country for future broadband initiatives.

But it is not all smooth sailing. The U.K. Government faced criticism for how much money it had spent on developing mobile apps. But a truly disruptive trend is rarely without some hiccups.

Meanwhile, Australian governments are embracing mobile devices and apps to meet our local needs, such as more efficient communication of important information to our dispersed population, allowing public servants the ability to take action on the spot rather than having to wait until they have returned to the the office1.

For example, the Attorney-General’s Department released its DisasterWatch mobile app to improve access to disaster information and help reduce call volumes to Triple Zero (000) during natural disasters.

City of Sydney Rangers trialled using of iPads to identify and fine people on the spot for fraudulently parking their cars in disabled car spaces. Rangers use an iPad to access a large state government database of invalid Australian Disability Parking Scheme (ADPS) cards that have been lost, stolen, destroyed, revoked, or were once for the deceased to identify invalid cards.

At the end of last year, NSW Police launched a mobile website to give smartphone and tablet users greater access to the latest crime news, traffic alerts and emergency warnings.

Australia Post uses a mobile website and smartphone apps to provide easy access to information and services such as to calculate postage costs, search for a postcode, view and track parcel items, pay bills online, find a nearby posting box and locate any Australia Post retail outlet.

The NSW Government Transport Info 131500 app provides up-to-date trip planning details and maps for using train, bus and ferry services across greater metropolitan Sydney.

In March this year, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship offered a mobile app to drive community participation in its Harmony Day initiative providing information about how to participate in the campaign, watch videos, upload photos and participate in social media conversations.

Yet there is still have a long way to go. Many Australian organisations, both government and commercial, have not yet moved corporate applications other than email onto mobile devices. For example, only four percent of organisations responding to the Unisys Consumerisation of IT study had modernised customer-facing applications for tablets or smartphones and only another four percent expected to do so by June 2012.

However the possibilities are amazing – and Australian government at all levels is at the forefront of innovation.


1 Many Australian Government mobile apps are available here: http://australia.gov.au/news-and-media/social-media/apps.

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