Posted Sunday, January 1, 2012 by Team Northwoods

Government’s Getting Mobile

I recently participated in a webinar on mobile computing in government and while there were no earthshattering revelations, it was a very interesting conversation. Several organizations talked about what they were doing in mobile computing, ranging from developing apps for mobile devices that consumers could download and use, to using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to change behavior in a community. There was also a discussion about what the future of mobile computing in government might look based on some survey results.

One of the interesting parts of the conversation was that most of the questions people had weren’t about what the applications did, or how to make things work technically. What people were most interested in hearing about was how using mobile technology changed the way agencies needed to think about how they did their work.

Making an agency website easily accessible for mobile devices means thinking about the layout and the content differently. Using social media for communications means setting expectations and giving people options as to how much contact there will be. Making data and information accessible via apps requires a plan for updates. Even determining which devices and platforms to program for is an important decision.

The webinar included the results of a survey about mobile computing, as well. The results were not surprising: lots of governmental entities are looking at mobile computing options, especially in developing one or two mobile applications to run on tablets and mobile phones.

  • Many government agencies see the value in creating mobile applications.
  • While cost saving is the biggest reason agencies are looking at mobile computing, improving business processes and accessing data were also major reasons to consider mobile computing.
  • One other big reason to look to mobile computing was to increase contact with and access to information for agency constituents.
  • Many agencies are looking to put information onto websites and apps created for mobile devices like tablets and mobile phones so that people can access information using those devices.
  • Other agencies are creating interactive programs that update people, via text message and other social media.

In human services, going mobile is both attractive and scary.

Attractive because being mobile means that services don’t have to be tied to the agency’s building, because workers in the field can have access to better data and information for decision making, and because information is updated quickly and not lost in the pile of paperwork.

Scary because mobile devices are just that – mobile, because data security becomes more complicated with that mobility, and because business processes need to be reconsidered with more variables.

Making the determination that the benefits outweigh the risks is only part of the work if an agency is looking to go mobile. Changes in business processes, modifications of data-use policies, and updates to the network all have to be considered. There is a lot of good thinking and guidance about how to make that happen. The good news is, lots of people are thinking about how to make mobile computing work.

Here at Northwoods, we are working to improve the delivery of human services using mobile devices by making it easier to collect information and have information at your fingertips while working outside of the office. Imagine: home visits without piles of paperwork accumulating in briefcases and car trunks, files updated automatically with current documentation and information, the most current information available for decision making, safeguards and security keeping information protected even if the device is lost or stolen.

Going mobile can improve both efficiency and effectiveness in human services. It is more than the devices; it’s understanding what is needed and designing solutions to meet those needs.