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Mobile Government: Anytime, Anywhere
Source: http://www.futuregov.asia/articles/2011/dec/08/mobile-government-anytime-anywhere/
Source Date: Thursday, December 08, 2011
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement
Country: Global
Created: Dec 12, 2011

Reduce 5 kgs in 2 weeks and lose up to 4 cms in 15 days. Join Golden Gym today and avail a discount of 20%”, so goes one of the many SMSes that a SIM typically receives every day in India. These SMSes sell a wide range of products and services - weight loss to spas, doctors, real estate, coaching centres, etc. - reflecting the penetration of mobile phones even in a developing country. Most importantly, messages delivered on mobile phones are delivered instantaneously as the mobile travels with the owner. This ‘anytime, anywhere’ availability feature of mobile devices can be leveraged by governments to make public information and citizen services available 24*7.
 
Kip Cole, Vice-President, Head of Enterprise Mobility Solutions, SAP, Asia-Pacific, elaborates, “As mobile penetration in developed countries nears ubiquity and registers exponential growth in developing countries; government services can now be extended directly to citizens wherever they may be. Whilst the first step might be to deliver existing services directly to citizens (tax payments, forms and applications and so on), it’s the opportunity for a new, more engaged real-time relationship with citizens that shows much promise. For example, it is possible to deliver crowd-sourced traffic reports; to allow citizens to report graffiti locations or where roads need repair. Governments can use mobile technology to deliver civil defence services, for example tsunami warnings or terrorism alerts.” “These new technologies and approaches such as mobile technologies and use of social media provide a rich opportunity to the governments to innovative the way the public sector works internally and interacts with citizens and businesses and provide services which respond to their needs,” says Barbara Ubaldi, Head of the e-Government Unit at OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

M-government is an extension of e-government to mobile platforms and is gaining currency as the cost involved in buying and maintaining a mobile device is way lower than a computer or laptop. Besides this, mobile phones allow for greater citizen participation by facilitating an easy, two-way communication between the citizens and the government. Besides these, it allows for multiple access channels for services (SMS, GPRS, GPS, etc.). Says Cole, “m-government presents far-reaching and transformative opportunities for creating a greater level of engagement between governments and people. Where the general satisfaction with the government appears to be under pressure, the positive aspects of service delivery and social applications can make it more relevant and engaged.” Mobile technology has enabled governments across the world become transparent, accountable and efficient, thus resulting in greater citizen satisfaction. Mobile services are being used to enhance the quality of healthcare, education, security, governance and the quality of life in general.

India’s Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) imparts student courses on public health, art, music and various other subjects through mobile phones. Various public banks have started mobile banking facility in the country. Mobile phones are also being used to monitor the work of various public departments. Bangladesh government sends text messages to warn people of natural disasters, including floods and cyclones. The Singapore government recently launched mGov@SG, a one-stop government mobile site congregating more than 40 mobile government services, for customers who want to transact with the government while on the move. It is a similar story in the US, UK and Australia. While various similar initiatives are being undertaken across the Asia Pacific region. Mobile government seems poised to be the focus area of governments for some time to come.

No transformative technology comes without risks and challenges. Clarity and strict privacy policies are very important and hence security infrastructure and management are important for its success. “One of the challenges in moving to a mobile environment is balancing the required robustness of the enterprise applications with the ‘creative chaos’ that is the mobile device world. Hence making technology choices which limit flexibility, or which don’t address the scalability, security, performance and reliability elements may face future challenges that are difficult to overcome. Secondly, this is a very fast moving and innovative part of the information technology industry. Building a service delivery strategy that is flexible and responsive will be important in order to capture the innovation benefit that mobility brings,” says Cole. As a lot of government data on citizens is sensitive (eg. tax-related or health related) all applications, especially the end points of access such as the mobile phone need to be secured.

The issue of security is all the more important as mobile devices are relatively easy to tamper with as its networks use public airwaves. Add to that the fact that many countries have not yet drawn an m-government strategy detailing legislation and code of conduct for citizens as well as the governments. “The effective capacity of the governments to actually reap the benefits of mobile technology will also be their capacity to effectively deal with the challenges that come along the adoption of these technologies such as being strategic in their approach, implementing the required organisational and structural changes, need to develop new skills and train the public sector workforce as well as their societies. This is extremely important to avoid the creation of new forums of digital exclusion as a result of adoption of these new technologies.

“Common challenges include the ability of fully comprehending the needs of citizens and being responsive in providing services besides privacy and security issues,” opines Ubaldi, adding that it is important for the governments which have progressively moved to e-government services to also accommodate the requests of citizens who still prefer the personal contact with the public workforce to access public information and services.

Addressing issues of interoperability and compatibility is yet another challenge as some services are tied to specific operating systems, devices and even departments. Says Cole, “technology trends suggest that for governments (and public-access applications in general), a strategy based upon HTML 5, CSS 3 and Javascript will deliver the best balance between features and cross-platform compatibility.”

When it comes to m-government, developing countries have an advantage over developed countries in many respects. Mobile penetration in China and India, for example, is among the highest in the world, ensuring wide-reaching service delivery. Cole explains, “there is also a ‘generation skipping’ advantage for developing countries. They have the chance to build next-generation service delivery platforms focused around mobility without having to manage a transition from existing delivery platforms. Hence overall their costs could be lower, their time to delivery shorter and the population reach wider.”

For example, when Singapore decided to implement an m-gov strategy as part of the Integrated Government 2010 e-government masterplan for 2005-10, it meant taking into account all e-government services that were earlier being delivered over the Internet. On the other hand, m-governance initiatives in India are primarily aimed at the rural population which doesn’t have access to e-governance schemes due to low penetration of the Internet and Broadband. It is evident that mobile government will shape the future of governance and governments need to attune themselves to new trends in the segment, both technologically and culturally to effect meaningful changes and better citizen satisfaction.
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