SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Geospatial visualization of data and the continued integration of mobile devices are two key areas public-sector technology professionals should keep an eye on as 2013 approaches, according to Deloitte Consulting Deputy Chief Technology Officer Bill Briggs.

Speaking at the annual GTC West Conference on Wednesday, May 30, Briggs said the combination of mobile technology and the ability to work with data sets on devices is driving developments in visualization for governments. While some cities have already created real-time applications for vehicle fleet tracking, Briggs believes those innovations are just scratching the surface of what’s to come by the end of the year.

Specifically, Briggs said indoor tracking and location-based services are becoming integrated with more regularity. He predicts more advanced applications that provide services based on a user’s location. The trend in 2012, he explained, is not that mobile is important to government, but how that mobile power is harnessed and prioritized.

For example, he said at some point soon, public agency managers will be able to walk into their offices and have a mobile system that pulls up and knows who is working on a specific day based on an integrated scheduling system, complete with all the faces and HR incidents of an employee.

“Even if we turn off mobile services and location services, [the data] is still out there somewhere,” Briggs said. “More and more of what we do has geocoded information on it, and there is a wealth of services out there to take that existing data and add some geo-context or location-based context to it.”

“The question is, how do we use more and more of this context to guide the solutions we create,” he added.

Briggs also emphasized the concept of user empowerment when designing applications and systems. Unlike 20 years ago, when people only had limited access to technology outside the office, we’re now surrounded by technology and it’s the forefront of what people think about on a daily basis.

So instead of driving an initiative based solely on an agency’s specific need, IT leaders need to focus more on how people do their jobs and interact with technology in their lives — and design around the concept of practicality. Briggs explained that Deloitte recently developed an application for Amtrak conductors that took their manual process of punching tickets and put it into an application.

Rather then transferring the exact functions to an electronic system, Deloitte representatives rode on the trains and watched the work by Amtrak staff. They discovered that while the process itself was evident, the little things — like intermittent Internet connectivity and occasional jostling due to the moving train — had to be accounted for to make an app truly usable.

That type of closely monitored development is something Briggs sees expanding in the months ahead, particularly in the government space.

“It’s not just sexy high-gloss, front-end stuff … [although] having design capabilities is an important part of it,” Briggs said. “But more important is understanding how they are doing their jobs and how we best design a solution for that in mind.”

Social media was another area Briggs feels public agencies are starting to get a better handle on in 2012. But while having a social media presence is a good start for many governments, it will only be a meaningful channel of communication if representatives are actively engaged on the platforms. Briggs said the point of social media interaction is not communication control, but rather mediation and an opportunity to take part in conversations and insert another voice into discussions.

Another trend Briggs has seen develop this year is the push to establish verified digital identities. The concept is to have one distinct online profile for a person, which translates across multiple platforms. This way, a user doesn’t have to remember multiple passwords.

While verified identities haven’t gained much traction yet at the state and local government levels, Briggs said the U.S. government is looking into the concept. In Europe, the Swiss have authorized their post office to issue a digital identity. The challenge, Briggs said, is getting government agencies to understand that “acceptable risk” as a real conclusion in regard to cybersecurity.

“People might laugh, but Facebook Connect and iTunes are becoming two very popular identity programs,” Briggs said. “ITunes is an interesting one because it has a credit card behind it. So it is going to be figured out. These silos are going to be broken down.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.