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In Government, Go Mobile Now. Do It Right 2, we discussed how enterprise mobility increases employee productivity and how IT departments can provide better data protection and properly monitor the use of mobile devices for work. This week we have a look at

Public Security and Field Services

This is the classic area for mobile applications in government: Walkie-talkies have been used by security forces since the nineteen forties! Workers in the field have been using mobile devices for decades to communicate, to improve availability and to increase productivity. Service workers maintaining public infrastructure, streets, water and gas pipes, power lines use ruggedized mobile devices.

So, what’s different now?

The advent of affordable, small mobile consumer devices makes many expensive ruggedized devices obsolete, and allows smaller communities to take advantage of the technology. The game has changed dramatically: For a fraction of the cost of a ruggedized device multiple consumer-grade devices may be purchased today, with professional grade enterprise apps conveniently available for download on corporate app stores and marketplaces which can do more, faster and better than custom-built applications on some of the old devices. The smaller size of mobile devices and their low price allows for more use cases: Police cars may have had built-in ruggedized laptops for years, but now even the patrol officer on a bicycle or by foot can take advantage of the technology, capture on hand-held or wearable devices license plates or suspicious observations for immediate checking at headquarters. (See e.g. the Special Report: A Guide to Mobility in Government, page 3) When on patrol, facial recognition apps may help security forces identify known offenders on the spot, before they become an immediate threat.

Mobile device GPS guides service workers to their field  task, built-in high-resolution cameras and augmented reality apps show them data and pictures in context they would not be able to see otherwise, guiding them through maintenance,overhaul activity, etc.

To inspectors, customer information is readily available, at the tap of a finger, tasks, time and activity data are updated and synchronized with the enterprise resource planning system, in real time, automatically, over the air, whenever possible. 

Another advantage of consumer-grade devices and apps: They are intuitive. You don’t have to be a “techie” or nerd to use them, even new hires “get it” instantly. Due to better affordability of mobile devices, an infrastructure of readily available supporting services like app stores, and dedicated service providers, today, more agencies than ever may equip a larger number of  their staff with mobile service devices and task-specific apps.

And then again, as mobile computing gets smaller and cheaper all the time, new sensors messaging the status of critical infrastructure to headquarters reduce the need for staff to get on site to check on bridges and tunnels.  

It’s Not Science Fiction. It’s Now.

Increasing affordability and power of consumer-grade devices and readily available professional-grade apps change the picture even in areas where enterprise mobility has been around decades before the term enterprise mobility was conceived. This affordability lowers replacement cost of technology for some communities and increases the reach of mobile to more communities. But with consumer-grade devices and the fast-moving infrastructure around them come new opportunities for government to re-think the way they do business on a process level, and on a higher level, too, be it at inflection points like hardware replacement or as part of continuous improvement.

Be aware of side effects. They are good for you, and for others, too.

Another nice side effect of consumer-grade devices and applications is, consumers with those devices are often citizens willing to help government get the job done. Why? Because they can!

There are numerous 311 apps commercially available and an entire industry is emerging around open government and citizen participation. Just to mention a few: open311.org, ConnectedBits.com, SeeClickFix.com, CodeForAmerica.org, FixMyStreet.org (UK, NZ, AUS), Lagan, SAP. Govloop provided for a great infographic on open gov initiatives in the US Federal government.

While the goal of open gov often is to give citizens more insight and information, as a side effect, citizen-self services are being strengthened, alleviating the burden on city workers, saving time and expenses, while contributing to a more transparent, trustworthy government. The CIO of the City of Boston, MA, Bill Oates said in a webinar, their much awarded mobile 311 application, Boston’s Citizens Connect, had reduced respective manual city workload by 17%.

This week we saw how the needs for applications supporting the mission and the drive for ever better efficiency have been inspiring security forces and services agencies to develop mobile business processes a long time ago. While this motivation has not changed, affordability of devices and the number and character of applications available for them now have completely changed the picture enabling entirely new ways to do business. With the shift towards consumers mobile devices are now always with us and always on. This, and the availability of government-issued mobile citizen apps lowers the threshold of interacting with government considerably: Anecdotal evidence shows, more community members feel empowered and are willing to participate when there is an app for that. And even though citizen participation increases, mobile still – or even more – lowers costs for the government, as Boston proves.

Next week we shall explore another aspect of unprecedented reach: Low-tech mobility’s chance to reach virtually billions of people, what that means for disaster prevention, emergency management & recovery, and for some other areas. Tune in again.  

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