Research Analyst for Frost & Sullivan Jayashree Rajagopal promotes m-government as the key enabler to create a user-driven smart government
The mobile penetration rate has surpassed 100% in almost all European countries. In order to improve the reach of services, many industry verticals such as healthcare and banking are utilising mobile communication as a major channel. Since governments now successfully use the internet as a channel for easy access to citizens, the next major means whose ubiquity can be leveraged is mobile communication.
e-Government has successfully helped to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations. The majority of these activities in Europe to date have been productivity driven, with a primary focus on cost-effectiveness.
A policy shift towards the implementation of user-centric and user-driven government has resulted in the adoption of the internet as a platform to communicate with citizens. This has enabled interaction between authorities and people, with the latter increasingly considered as customers, rather than just taxpayers.
The next level in the provision of government operations and services is participation-driven government. This can only be enabled if two-way interaction exists between government representatives and citizens.
The use of mobile and wireless technologies, devices and applications to improve government processes and citizen participation is known as mobile government (m-government). This has been largely accepted as an enabler of e-government services in developed countries.
In countries where e-government initiatives have been more limited, however, m-government is mostly viewed as a tool to enable integration between ICT and government activities. The use of ICT in this manner can be largely termed 'smart government', and currently involves the combination of e-government and m-government activities. Not only does this help to enhance interaction between governments and citizens, but it also improves the productivity of public service personnel by strengthening communication between various government departments.
m-Government and e-government interaction
Implementation of mobile technologies across industry verticals such as banking and healthcare has delivered fruitful results in Europe. In the various government interactions there are five main stakeholders involved: public administrators, government employees, business partners, citizens, and tourists.
In most western European countries, e-government infrastructure is well established, and m-government services will result in better utilisation. Various mobile technologies – such as cellular technologies, RFID, GPS, GIS, near field communication, WiFi and Bluetooth – will help to improve government transaction levels from basic access to fully interactive. Every year, European countries allocate a proportion of their budget to e-government, and as this infrastructure is now well established, investments in m-government are necessary to leverage those in established government infrastructure and services.
In order to ensure that m-government investment is justified, citizens must be made aware of the advantages of using mobile technologies when interacting with authorities. To encourage the use of m-government across all major European countries, a few services should be introduced to citizens that will enable them to understand the convenience of mobile technology.
This will also prompt them to seek similar services when undertaking future activities. For example, if a citizen files their income tax returns on the internet, an update can be sent to their mobile number. Another technique that can be implemented is the provision of incentives when specified applications and services are used.
This will help to drive the adoption of services and also enable citizens to derive benefits in the short term. m-Government is seen to complement the various e-government initiatives already present. Both of these tools need to develop simultaneously to improve efficiency of government-citizen interaction.
Generally, citizens have to go to government offices to apply for individual documents and services that are exclusively offered by public administrations. This can involve long waiting times for citizens and is often not very accessible for the elderly, disabled people, and those from rural areas. With m-government, services can be provided at locations such as neighbourhood centres, libraries, hospitals or shopping malls by civil servants through the use of mobile equipment with wireless networks.
This was the rationale behind the 'Mobile Citizen Services' (MoBüD) project in Germany, which was initiated and accomplished by the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, the Senate of the Interior of Berlin and other partners. In response to this, Citizen-friendly Trans-European m-Government Services (CIDRE) was launched in Sweden, Estonia and the Netherlands to discover how m-government services similar to the German MoBüD prototype service can be launched in the European market.
CIDRE involved testing activities such as taxation, social insurance and health services in these countries. Public services were implemented at convenient places such as public buildings, where there are fewer barriers to access and the administrative burden is reduced. One service that proved extremely successful was that which helped to create awareness of the e-government services already available via the internet.
During the CIDRE trials, it was observed that a direct transfer of services from the German pilots is not possible as there are a number of differences in terms of government set-up in each country. In the Netherlands, the pilots were successful as there are a lot of similarities between the government system there and that in Germany.
Meanwhile, due to a well-established e-government system – and as various public administration departments have a policy to not disclose information to other departments – the Swedish pilots were largely unsuccessful. Estonia has some established e-government facilities, with mobile technologies being used for those services that do not.
Challenges with smart government
Although smart government is the major step towards participation-driven government, there are a number of requirements that need to be satisfied for the effective functioning of smart government systems:
- Smart government infrastructure needs to be uniform throughout a country: only when all government organisations are equipped with similar infrastructure can services be used effectively and efficiently;
- Smart government needs to enable every citizen to interact with the government: with the existence of the digital divide in many countries, it will be difficult for uniform utilisation since citizen participation will be limited. As a participation-driven initiative, smart government services need to reach every citizen in order to obtain unbiased views;
- The government's policies need to be well-defined to enable coordination between various government departments: smart government initiatives will only be successful when the various government departments understand each other's roles and have a good communication channel to connect them;
- Security and privacy issues of government information have posed a major threat: as there are no well-defined laws and regulations for electronic and mobile transfer of government information in any European country, people are reluctant to utilise the various services available;
- The lack of IT skills among personnel in government departments and agencies is a major challenge: this has hindered successful implementation of many e-government and m-government projects. For any smart government initiative, there need to be huge investments for developing the IT skills of the personnel;
- In many European countries there are a number of disparate e-government and/or m-government activities: although many of these may be successful, most have not been replicated at national level. Therefore a common platform needs to be established to analyse and realise such activities. This will be enabled by uniform laws and regulations that would support replicating the success of local initiatives at a country level.
In order to leverage the advantages of smart government, a mechanism needs to be set-up to accurately and securely identify each citizen. This will ensure that access to various smart government services is authenticated.
All government organisations and agencies must have online databases that cover information regarding their various services and activities. Since e-government is established in many European countries, the next step will be to enable e-government initiatives for all the services and activities of the government, bringing them onto a common platform.
This will be ideal for integrating mobile technologies, devices and applications into government activities and will work towards the achievement of participation-driven government. The key to performing all of these activities is the integration of the stakeholders involved in e-government and m-government initiatives, who should be aware of the administrative, legislative and regulatory environment in order to develop relevant services.
With the existing e-government environment in mind, stakeholders should develop user-friendly and innovative solutions. Furthermore, governments should consider the views of those involved, and prioritise the implementation of services accordingly. Awareness should be created among citizens to enable rapid and effective utilisation of services. Smart government is a country-level initiative and governments must assume a leadership role to ensure that all stakeholders act efficiently and effectively to enable the realisation of participation driven government.