mGovernment: Mobile/Wireless Applications in Government
This section is dedicated to the use of mobile and wireless information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support public sector work processes.
It addresses a series of issues of potential interest to m-government practitioners and suggests solutions to these issues. The solutions were developed through a mix of research at IDPM, research in local partner institutions, and discussions on the egov4dev email list.
The answers have been developed through research by Dr Emmanuel C. Lallana.
mGovernment is the fourth topic in a series of topics covered by the eGovernment for Development Information Exchange.
What is mGovernment?
mGovernment is a subset of e-government. eGovernment is the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve the activities of public sector organisations. In the case of m-government, those ICTs are limited to mobile and/or wireless technologies like cellular/mobile phones, and laptops and PDAs (personal digital assistants) connected to wireless local area networks (LANs). mGovernment can help make public information and government services available "anytime, anywhere" to citizens and officials.
mGovernment should not be seen as something brand-new: for example, wireless technology has always been an important part of law enforcement. Only today, police officers are as likely to use a laptop wirelessly connected to the Internet as the good old two-way radio. When officers spot a suspicious vehicle they can directly search databases that provide information on who owns the vehicle, if it has been reported stolen or has been reported at a crime scene, and if the owner is wanted by police or has jumped bail. Health and safety inspectors can now file their reports from the field in real time using a Pocket PC or handheld terminals, eliminating paper forms and the need to re-enter the data collected when they get back to the office.
On the other hand, citizens are able to save time and energy further by accessing the Internet and government networks through mobile phones and other wireless devices. In Malaysia, for example, citizens can verify their voting information, such as the parliamentary and state constituencies where they are to vote, using SMS (short message service). Alternatively, citizens can request that real-time information is sent to their mobile phone, PDA, or pager as an e-mail or text message. As another example, the California state government has established a Web page where citizens can register to receive wireless PDA and cell phone notification services for energy alerts, lottery results, traffic updates and articles from the Governor's press room.
mGovernment is not only about efficiency but it also allows for citizen activism. In the Philippines, citizens are able to help enforce anti-pollution laws by reporting smoke-belching public buses and other vehicles via SMS. SMS is also being used, for example, to get citizens involved in the fight against crime and illegal drugs.
mGovernment and Developing Countries
mGovernment is particularly suited for the developing world where Internet access rates are low but mobile phone penetration is growing rapidly, particularly in urban areas. Globally, the number of mobile phones has surpassed the number of fixed/wired phones. This is also the case in many individual nations, including 49 middle-income and 36 low-income countries. Among these countries are Burkina Faso, Chad, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. According to a recent study, the population of global SMS users will grow to 1.36 billion in 2006.
mGovernment and eGovernment
mGovernment is not a replacement for e-government, rather it complements it. While mobile devices are excellent access devices, most of them, particularly mobile phones, are not suitable for the transmission of complex and voluminous information. Despite the emergence of more sophisticated handsets, mobile phones do not have the same amount of features and services as PC-based Internet applications. For example, SMS limits messages to 160 characters, whereas email allows a nearly infinite quantity of characters and multimedia content. Even PDAs or Pocket PCs that support email have display and other limitations. Internet-connected PCs are still the preferred device to take part in online political discussions, to search for detailed public sector information, and to transact most types of e-government service. Mobile applications also rely on good back office ICT infrastructure and work processes: government networks and databases, data quality procedures, transaction recording processes, etc.
mGovernment is like automated teller machines (ATMs). In both cases, the device used by the public is quick and convenient. But it is just the tip of an iceberg: just the final delivery channel to the citizen. Underneath is a complex and costly infrastructure that is required in order to make that final delivery device work.