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Monday
Jan142013

The Link Between Mobile Tech and Government Transparency

By Dennis D. McDonald

Click or tap image to download a .pdf of this article.Introduction

It’s no secret that mobile technologies are disrupting traditional IT management approaches. Industry analysts such as Gartner acknowledge this. But what’s the link between the public’s increasing use of mobile technologies and how government agencies at all levels are making their programs — and their data — more open and accessible?

The connection between the two is partly opportunistic (on the part of the government) and partly one of demand (on the part of the public).

Government

The opportunistic aspect is simple. Government agencies, if they’re paying attention, will surely notice the public’s increasing use of mobile technologies to communicate, collaborate, conduct business, and just plain interact with each other and with organizations of all types. 

Government’s natural reaction, if it’s serious about engaging with and serving the public, is, or should be,

“We want to be where the action is. If people are using smartphones and tablet computers to communicate and do business, we need to be there, too, and that includes making our data available to people using mobile devices.”

In other words, government’s opportunistic response to people using mobile devices is to make those mobile devices one more channel for the delivery of services.

This is happening. The goal “Improve Priority Customer-Facing Services for Mobile Use” is an element in the Administration’s digital strategy with a set of milestones already identified. However, while the “dashboard” that publicly tracks progress towards this digital strategy is based on criteria established by the strategy, the use of mobile technologies is not specifically addressed in the dashboard. In the future the specific inclusion of mobile technologies in data- and customer-centered initiatives could be made more specific as a dashboard item.

Public Demand

On the demand side, the “app economy” that has built up around iOS and Android devices is demonstrating to people that smartphones are much more than just portable telephones or portable computers. The sending and receiving of data, especially at the local level, is giving rise to a host of applications that support not only service consumption but also the creation and generation of location-and socially-augmented data and transactions.

The linking of contextual information to institutions and locations, some supplied by social contacts and some by sponsored sources, is employing a variety of data to significantly improve, or at least alter, how people expect to interact with local institutions. At one time it was a significant advance for a caller to a call center to be greeted by a customer rep who had already brought up the caller’s contact history on a screen. Users now expect to be able to access usage information, ratings, and usage tips about a product or service based on relationships and social networks. 

Government agencies need to play in the space as well, not because they want to provide more data per se to the public but because they now have an opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their services through intelligently managed data. Improved citizen service is a major element in the Administration’s digital strategy.

Data Must be Managed Effectively

The types of interactions suggested above are impossible to produce and use effectively without a recognition that the data associated with government programs is a key asset that needs to be intelligently and strategically managed. 

Just treating the data associated with a government program as a “byproduct” of that program’s services, to be made available for academic analysis or for some unspecified or hypothetical “innovative” use, may be an incomplete response to real opportunities for improving program outcomes.

Program data need to be managed as a key element in how services are provided. This includes being clear about how service related data are generated and consumed through all delivery channels, including mobile. Again, how data are managed is a key part of the Administration’s digital strategy.

Conclusion

Making data files available for downloading should be viewed as just one step in a comprehensive transparency strategy.

Also making sure that data are managed effectively through all service delivery channels, including mobile, should be of paramount importance as well.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in collaborative project management and new technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. His experience includes the management of projects involving the conversion or migration of financial and transaction data associated with large and small systems. Contact Dennis via email at ddmcd@yahoo.com or by phone at 703-402-7382.

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