Governments can -- and should -- join the mobile revolution

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Governments can -- and should -- join the mobile revolution

Let’s say a dad and his son leave at dawn for their favorite hunting spot. As they swing into the state park, dad gets a text, looks at his smartphone and breathes a sigh of relief.

He would’ve hated for a game warden to cut the day short, so he’s thankful the state Conservation Department’s GPS system recognized his approach, automatically messaged him about his expired hunting license and allowed him to renew the license via his mobile device, right from the cab of his pickup.

We may not be there yet, but that scenario is no longer far-fetched. 

Mobile: where your constituents are

Just stand in a checkout line for five seconds, or glance over at the person next to you stopped at a traffic light. People have become accustomed to getting whatever information or services they need at the moment of need, no matter where they are or what time of day it is -- and they expect the same of government.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that more than two-thirds of U.S adults have smartphones, nearly double the amount from just four years earlier. Meanwhile, Pew’s survey data indicated that 45 percent of U.S. adults own tablet devices. That last point is important, because the mobile market isn’t just smartphones. The use of tablets skyrocketed from 2010 to 2015.

This is a good time to clear up another potential misconception: Mobile usage is not confined to those who are on the cutting edge of technology.

Though smartphone owners tend to be younger, wealthier and better educated than the population as a whole, Pew’s data also showed that a little more than half of U.S adults who earn $30,000 or less a year own smartphones. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults in that same income bracket own tablets.

If your agency serves the poor or unemployed, your mindset shouldn’t be, “We don’t need to invest in mobile, because our constituents can’t afford mobile devices.” Study your constituents and you might find smartphone ownership is at a much higher level than you anticipated.

The mobile revolution in government

Data from Arkansas illustrates the popularity of the mobile platform and the breadth of services government can offer through mobile:

  • Student financial aid applications through mobile devices exceeded 50 percent for the first time last year, peaking again this year at 54 percent.
  • Almost nine in 10 visits (84 percent) to IDriveArkansas.com, which provides users with road conditions, come from mobile. That figure has been well over 60 percent for the past few years.
  • Auditor/unclaimed property filings hit 71 percent mobile in May 2015, and that figure, too, continues to trend up.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of services that could be offered via mobile devices.

Not sure where to begin? Consider using focus groups or surveys to gauge constituents’ interest. Also, by taking a citizen-focused perspective, you can evaluate the “pain points” that make it difficult for citizens to interact with your state digitally.

Think of an entrepreneur who is starting a small business. Right now, he or she might have to visit several agency websites and type in the same information on several  forms to register the business, get a tax identification number, set up quarterly tax payments and apply for a license.

But maybe those state agencies could get together to create one form the entrepreneur could complete via a mobile device. They might even combine their back-end systems so the entrepreneur could make a single payment using a smartphone, with the correct amounts owed each agency distributed automatically.

Certainly there are technical issues to consider with a  mobile environment. For instance, agencies must account for different operating systems, the types of services each application can provide and the varying ages of users’ devices. Some services and forms always will look and function better with laptop or desktop access, and government can’t forget that segment of the population that still feels more comfortable with that technology.

Yet every indication suggests the continued growth of mobile as the preferred environment for online access. By evaluating the current mobile usage of existing services and looking at every service from a citizen-centric viewpoint, your agency will be well prepared to take a mobile-first approach to delivering government services.

About the Author

Bob Sanders is general manager for the Arkansas Information Consortium, a subsidiary of NIC Inc.

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