Smart phone with New York City map app

Agencies have the tools to unleash dynamic mobile services

Somewhere along the way, mobility efforts by government picked up the techie-sounding nickname “m-government.” However, at its core, the trend is more about transforming the way the public sector can serve citizens rather than transforming the technology used by governments.

Today, state and local governments can meet the needs of their citizens through mobility, especially when using services like public transportation, attending special events like festivals or state fairs or choosing tourism destinations. Mobile apps are perfect for these tasks because when accessing these services the users — citizens like you or me — are often on-the-go.

However, when extraordinary events take place — such as Superstorm Sandy — the value of mobility increases tenfold, as immediate access to public transportation and information becomes vital to public safety. 

At the state and local level, many government entities are also responsible for critical services such as roads, utilities or emergency response. Keeping these services running smoothly means the workforce needs to be out in the field, where their tasks can be made more efficient via mobility. Mobile apps also are an ideal way to give the larger public an easy, convenient way to report problems they spot with public infrastructure.

Indications are that mobility uptake by government entities is already going strong. According to a February 2012 survey of 100 members of an online community of senior-level IT professionals from state and local governments, 38 percent planned to launch new mobile offerings within the next 12 months.

Federal agencies also are embracing mobility. A survey conducted earlier this year by technology provider CDW-G found that 99 percent of federal IT professionals have deployed mobile devices to empower their workforce.

There are some technology priorities that governments should be concerned about while planning their mobile initiatives. First, it helps to use a smart mobility platform to natively build, deploy and manage apps for all major smart-phone operating systems, without having to custom develop apps for individual devices. To make the information you serve up to the public in real-time, the platform should be able to link to various back-end systems seamlessly.  

Mobile security is also a major concern for any sector in today’s bring-your-own device era, including state and local governments. A recent survey on government mobility  by Forrester Research found that just 6 percent of government employees said their organizations prohibit the use of personal devices, but a majority said their IT departments provide limited or no support for personal devices.

The CDW-G survey found that there is room for agencies to improve security measures to protect sensitive data. For example, while 82 percent of IT professionals said their agency deployed encryption for mobile devices, far fewer said their agency protects mobile devices with multi-factor authentication (54 percent), remote lock and wipe (45 percent), and data loss prevention software (39 percent).

In reality, if organizations use a mobility platform with integrated security capabilities to centrally build and deploy apps, they can be sure that their data is well protected. Also, if a device is stolen or lost, the IT team can manage the situation using remote-wipe capability and remove the app from the system, without impacting any personal information.

As for examples, New York State’s Department of Transportation offers a real-time traffic and transit app for commuters. This 511NY mobile app integrates with back-end data sources to give commuters a view of the latest conditions, and is available on iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry devices. The app garnered the Intelligent Transportation Society of New York (ITS-NY) Outstanding Project of the Year  in 2011 for traveler information applications.

Another good example of apps serving people on the go is the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which used a mobility platform to create a camping and recreation locator app. Mobile platform capabilities simplified the ongoing management of the app.

Because of all the services, events and recreation venues that local and state governments are involved with, the range of customer service-focused apps is practically limitless. In short, don’t think of mobility for government as a substitute for accessing paper-based records, or even Web-based access to static information, but as a way to deliver timely, dynamic information to a public that is constantly on the go, eager for help as they make decisions or willing to give instant feedback or assistance via a mobile app.

Today, 62 percent of the U.S. public sector has developed native apps for their employees and local citizens. This number continues to grow as cities and states face increased pressure to provide real-time access to government information and services. The possibilities of developing additional mobile apps to service the public is tremendous and is the reason why our government holds such potential to be a global mobility leader.

About the Author

T.L. Neff is executive vice president of Global Client Services for Verivo Software.

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