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Mobile can help drive more federal innovation

Look to states for best practices

Sep. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By ROBERT KNAPP   |   Comments

In his July Management Agenda: Innovative Government speech, President Obama outlined his vision for a smarter, more innovative and more responsive government.

He challenged federal leaders across all agencies to harness the power of technology and replicate online efficiencies already available in the private sector, such as tracking a package from shipping to delivery point or filling in information once, on one form, which then populates across multiple forms.

For federal leaders who are ready to think big, I encourage starting small — as in the 3-by-5-inch smartphone device that 91 percent of American adults own.

A mobile-first approach is a must for eGovernment innovation. No longer “nice to have” or novelty items, mobile devices are well on their way to becoming the primary means of accessing the Internet.

Federal leaders can harness the power of mobile and deliver results quickly by following the example set by state governments:

■ Use mobile device tools.

Rather than placing current website content into a native mobile application, consider smartphone or tablet tools — geolocation, mapping, camera, calendar synchronization, etc. — and put them to work for your agency.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, for example, uses geolocation features in its mobile app. When users select “near me,” the app creates a list of lakes and parks near a particular location.

In Hawaii, geolocation is especially useful for the state’s new mobile app, “EV Stations Hawaii,” which helps drivers locate publicly available electric vehicle charging stations.

The Kentucky Department of Homeland Security developed the “Eyes and Ears on Kentucky” app to report suspicious activity, allowing users to take a photo and submit pertinent tips anonymously, straight from their smartphones.

With so many unique features on mobile devices, it’s important to consider how to move beyond static text and put these tools to use to create efficiencies.

■ Be responsive.

Taking a mobile-first approach to eGovernment innovation doesn’t always involve creating a native mobile application. Today, many developers use responsive design to automatically detect the user’s device and scale and adjust the content and graphics accordingly.

The benefit to your department is that you can develop the eGovernment service once and have just that service to maintain, yet it works across a myriad of devices.

In Arkansas, the state auditor launched an unclaimed property online service using responsive design. Within the first months of its launch, more than 40 percent of visitors accessed the service via mobile devices.

Making the site mobile friendly created efficiencies for users and for the department, which realized a 70 percent reduction in paper processing.

■ Empower employees.

When mobile device management security considerations are coupled with limited available resources, mobile innovation can quickly take a back seat to more pressing matters. One way to address this is by empowering employees to consider on-the-job mobile use. Armed with mobile devices, how could their jobs become easier and more efficient?

The Indiana state police did just that by establishing a pilot program of mobile school bus inspections. In Indiana, the state police are responsible for inspecting every school bus. The old process involved field officers taking handwritten notes on three-ply paper and returning to the office to enter data into non-standardized forms.

The result was errors from excessive double entry and time-delayed information that couldn’t be matched because of different styles of entering data.

With the pilot program, inspectors used tablets to scan a QR code on each school bus, electronically accessed previous inspection information and entered new data into the online form using standardized codes. The information immediately synced from the tablet to the database.

Give your employees the power to experiment with mobile devices to make their jobs easier and you may uncover new efficiencies and cost savings.

The president asked for eGovernment innovation, and many federal agencies can begin to think big by turning to the small mobile devices that have become so universal in our day-to-day lives.

With 63 percent of all American adult smartphone owners going online via their smartphones, mobile is a must for delivering the very best in online government services.

Robert Knapp is the Chief Operating Officer of NIC Inc., a provider of eGovernment online services, web portals and payment processing.

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