It’s becoming increasingly clear: Government agencies can no longer wait to integrate mobile. With an estimated 85 percent of American adults now owning a cell phone (half of which are smartphones) and with government’s current fiscal challenges, now is the time to take the enormous opportunity that mobile presents to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of government agencies.
Recently, while the private sector has rapidly adopted mobile, government has had to be more cautious. Their responsibility to understand the pros, cons, implications, and how to integrate large systems with new platforms has necessitated a measured approach. What this approach now affords is the chance to leverage key lessons learned from early adopters, as agencies are now able to put mobile initiatives on the front burner.
What we know is this: Mobile is here to stay and will become more important over time. It can allow agencies to respond to fiscal constraints and the increasing calls from citizens to become more efficient, open, and accessible. The question now becomes, where should government agencies begin?
How government agencies 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:
- Optimizing websites for mobile, paying special attention to the user experience.Many agencies are seeing mobile devices generating 20–50 percent of their website traffic. Because an agency’s site is often its “front door” for citizens to access services, there is an increasingly urgent call to ensure mobile users can use web-based resources effectively. Public agencies should work to create a mobile version of their website(s), or adopt a responsive design that optimizes web pages for different devices.
- Integrating mobile into modernization initiatives—now. A desktop-only strategy is no longer viable as mobile demand is becoming increasingly important. We have to recognize how mobile devices have fundamentally changed the environment and online interaction. Mobile is quickly evolving from an add-on to equal status with desktops, and will eventually become the dominant mode of access to information and services. It is not too early to incorporate mobile options into virtually all modernization efforts.
- Making the case for mobile capabilities. There are tradeoffs to be made between investing in mobile and investing in other priorities. To put mobile apps on a firm foundation, create a business case that quantifies potential benefits and accounts for both start-up and ongoing costs. Resources are available to support this process; for example, the GSA’s Mobile Gov Wiki provides agencies with tools to help design a mobile strategy and justify investments in mobile apps. Howto.gov offers information on metrics to assess the effectiveness of digital initiatives.
Lessons learned from the front lines
Government is fortunate to be ramping up mobile efforts at a time when we can lean heavily on lessons learned from early adopters in private and public sectors. Key takeaways to keep in mind are:
- 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 include many participants with limited technology skills. Mobile apps intended for government workers can also put a premium on reliability and accessibility, especially apps supporting law enforcement officers or the military personnel who are operating in challenging environments.
- Mobile is about transformation. It offers the opportunity to fundamentally rethink how an agency engages with and delivers services to constituents. 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 is expected to continue growing.
- Development must be agile. 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.
In Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, the Federal Government called on all agencies and departments to be prepared to “deliver and receive digital information and services anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”
Mobile is more than just the latest tech innovation. It is a driver that is fundamentally reshaping operating models, business models, marketplaces—and government. There is a real opportunity to increase the effectiveness of the government workforce, many of whom operate in mobile environments.
And that is why now is the time to begin a full-throttle adoption of mobile for government agencies. Now is the time to move boldly and get established in the mobile era—and be prepared with systems to evolve with it. Those agencies who do not may be left behind.
Rob Frazzini leads the Deloitte Digital Federal studio in Rosslyn, Virginia. This post is based on a chapter of Deloitte’s 2013 Tech Trends report, Mobile Only (and Beyond), jointly authored by Rob Frazzini, Principal, Greg Lomow, Specialist Leader, and Brian Rabe Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP.