Mobile momentum picks up in state and local gov

Mobile momentum picks up in state and local gov

As society becomes more mobile, local governments are challenged to keep pace with citizens who demand access to information and services anywhere, anytime on any device.  Aware of their responsibility to keep up with new technology, government IT managers say they plan to invest in core technologies in 2015, according to a recent survey by Vision Internet.

Likewise, states are creating more mobile applications than ever, according to the Pew Chartiable Trusts, which reports that there are about three times the number that existed just two years ago.  Citizens can pay their taxes, apply for student loans, even locate restaurants nearby that feature deals for those serving as a designated drivers.  

Most applications are inexpensive to build, though some cities and states contract with private sector partners.  Arkansas, for example, partnered with NIC, a company that provides websites, online services and secure payment processing solutions for state and local governments, to build its YOUniversal Arkansas website and app for students applying for college financial aid.

The system consolidates into one unified database 21 programs and processes from different governmental agencies, including the federal government FASFA application process, Arkansas Department of Education TRIAND data for student transcripts and higher education institutions’ student enrollment verification and financial aid awards.

When the state initially created the web page in 2010, it saw a 400 percent increase in aid applications in a year. Since creating the mobile app and web-based mobile app, applications have quadrupled to about 62,000 last year, Amy Sawyer, general manager of the Information Network of Arkansas  told Pew.

“It’s probably the highest-used app we have,” she said. “We attribute that to the younger demographics.”

But many smaller jurisdictions don’t have the deep resources of states and big cities. The Vision Internet survey of more than 330 government leaders, representing cities and counties with populations of less than 10,000 to more than 1 million showed that more than half of survey respondents said their agency does not currently provide citizen-facing services using mobile devices. While funding and security concerns topped the list of obstacles to using mobile technology, more than a third (35.4 percent) plan to invest in mobile government services this year.

“While harnessing the value of digital communications holds varying degrees of challenge for local government entities, this survey confirms that an overwhelming majority recognizes that doing so is key to fulfilling their roles as civil servants and delivering greater value to their constituents,” said Ashley Fruechting, Vision Internet’s director of strategic initiatives.

One way cities can get a tech infusion is through the non-profit company Code for America, which works with municipalities in an effort to convert public municipal data into usable mobile applications. 

In Austin, CIO Stephen Elkins credited Code for America for getting the city started in doing hackathons, which he said have engaged the community “to tell us what they think we should be doing.”

One of the city’s ideas was an initiative to create a council member contribution tracking system so the public could see how much funding was being generated for a council member’s campaign.  Austin officials considered the costs to build vs buy, but a  group at a hackathon said they could build an application without spending taxpayer dollars. They came up with a solution that met 75 percent of what Austin was trying to do, Elkins said, and they turned it over to the city to finish.

Small jurisdictions shouldn’t be discouraged by slow mobile progress. The smaller the government, the easier it is to build a meaningful application because there is less information to work with and feedback can be more readily provided, Brooks Rainwater, director of city solutions and applied research for the National League of Cities, told Pew.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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