A mobile enabled Government

04 May, 2009 by Joel Bellman | EventsStrategyMobile WebWeb

It’s increasingly clear – the public sector can no longer ignore mobile. Our research found that 84% of British 25-34 years olds now own a smart phone and 45% own a tablet (40% and 28% respectively for over 55s). With ongoing cost pressures, mobile provides an enormous opportunity to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of government.
A mobile enabled Government

The uptake of mobile in business has been extremely rapid, but the public sector has been more cautious.  This caution is driven in part by the natural inertia of the state, which rightly balances innovation alongside the need to “keep the lights on” with essential public services.  It is also driven partly by fears of putting citizen’s data at risk, and partly by not knowing the “art of the possible” for using mobile in public service delivery.  In this slow start, however, lies advantages:  the chance to learn from the experience of the private sector, and the time to allow digital technologies to mature.

The mobile paradigm

Digital mobile technologies have changed much of what we know about public service delivery models.   For the last sixty years, government has designed processes around the presumption that service delivery happens in a place – a processing centre, a government office, a call centre.   In the last decade many public bodies have embraced telephone and online delivery to replace paper and face-to-face contact, but these changes pale compared to the upcoming impact of mobile.

The mobile paradigm pushes “place” to the extremes of customer need.   At one extreme, place is irrelevant:  regardless of where I am, I can have mobile access to services.   At the other extreme place is essential:  my device has built-in GPS, camera and connectivity, so I can use my location to drive services such as traffic advice, reporting breakages, emergency management and job search.

Mobile is here to stay.  It can allow public bodies to respond to fiscal constraints, create a more open, efficient and accessible dialogue with customers, and improve services.  But where should government begin?

How the public sector can get started in mobile

The creative solutions that mobile offers are vast, but not all are good places to start. From early adopters, we have learned that the greatest value is often returned by starting in the following areas:

  • Optimising websites for mobile, paying special attention to user experience. An organisation’s website is often its “front door” for customers.  There is an increasingly urgent call to ensure mobile users can use web-based resources effectively.  Central government has made inroads through gov.uk, but our experience is that 75% of local authority sites still have poor mobile compatibility.  Public bodies should work to create a mobile version of their websites, or adopt a responsive design that optimises web pages for different devices.
  • Integrating mobile into modernisation initiatives. A desktop-only strategy is no longer viable as mobile demand is becoming increasingly important.  Mobile devices have fundamentally changed online interaction models.  Mobile is quickly evolving from an add-on to equal status with desktops, and is on track to become the dominant mode of access to information and services.  We suggest building a “mobile opportunity” discovery phase into almost every modernisation project to force project teams to give mobile due attention in the business case.
  • Consider all the ways in which mobile can transform.  Many public bodies prioritise making existing online services mobile-friendly, but there are many other ways that mobile can transform. Firstly, think about all possible mobile “end users” in processes:  these could be customers, but equally could be field service staff such as clinicians, engineers or inspectors.  Secondly, seek out wholly new ways in which mobile can make processes better and cheaper, for example:  collecting primary evidence at crime scenes, providing geo-located services such as mapping, or crowd-sourcing content for towns and cities.
Lessons learned from the private sector

Government is fortunate to be building mobile efforts at a time when we can draw on lessons learned from early adopters in the private sector.  Key lessons include:

  • User experience is critical. The limited display and input options on handheld devices mean that mobile apps should be simple and easy to use.  This is especially important when trying to engage citizens because the user base is likely to be highly diverse and may include participants with limited technology skills.  Mobile apps and sites intended for government workers might choose to put a premium on reliability and robustness, especially when usage is designed to take place in challenging environments such as hospitals, theatres of war, schools or in frontline policing.
  • Mobile is about transformation.  It offers the opportunity to fundamentally rethink how an organisation engages with and delivers services to customers.  Mobile allows government to shift from a one-way service delivery model to a more collaborative and co-created model.  As wireless devices get smarter and connectivity gets better, the role and strategic importance of mobile will continue growing.
  • You can’t build a mobile service on a paper-based business.  Whilst mobile provides countless opportunities, it should complement rather than replace the core business.  The best mobile solutions sit as natural extensions to a business model that is already digital, such as mobile shopping facilities at Amazon, eBay and John Lewis, or mobile tracking tools for businesses as diverse as FedEx and British Airways.
  • Embrace agile, user-centred delivery. Traditional, process-centric software development approaches are not well-suited to creating simple, engaging mobile apps. An agile, user-centric, iterative approach to development (design, build, test, and release) will generally yield better results, at lower cost and with less risk.
In conclusion…

The government’s digital strategy calls on agencies, departments and councils to become ‘digital by default’. With mobile fast becoming a driver that is fundamentally reshaping both the internal workings of organisations and how their customers interact with them, there is a real opportunity to improve interactions and increase the effectiveness of the government workforce, many of whom operate in mobile environments.  It’s time for a full speed adoption of mobile for government.  Time to move boldly and become established in the mobile era — and be prepared with systems to evolve with it.

Joel Bellman is a Director in Deloitte’s Government & Public Sector practice.  He leads Deloitte’s Digital Services team for the Public Sector, advising clients in both central and local government.  Follow him here.

Rianna Poulos is a Consultant in Deloitte Consulting and is passionate about helping the public sector better serve citizens. She is currently working with a major London borough on their open access programme, leading the transformational design. Follow her here.

Some of the content in this blog is based upon the Deloitte 2013 Tech Trends report.  In particular, we recommend Mobile Only (and Beyond) by Rob Frazzini.