Reinventing Tech Services

What do baby monitors and home security have to do with government?

It may come as no surprise, but having a baby has led to more purchases recently. Energy begets energy or spending begets more spending.

What’s been interesting about some of the purchases is how they’ve integrated new technology (cloud, mobile, video) in a seamless way to make my life better.  

It’s no longer about whether I have a 486 processor and you have a 386, or how many gigahertz or pixels a piece of technology has. But it’s about how technology can provide a great experience and truly make one’s life easier.

Here are four ways technology has recently improved my life:

1. Power of Mobile.
I didn’t previously own a home security system, but having a baby made me worry about this, so I got hooked up with the latest security system from our cable company. What I found fascinating was the power of mobile: The security system has a mobile app so I can arm and disarm it while I’m walking in and out of the house, instead of that annoying loud noise when I enter or activate it. To me, that’s a small feature but a huge win. What small wins can you bring to government processes with the power of mobile? My favorite example is allowing customers to pay their parking meter remotely via a smartphone.

2. Syncing Across Devices. We’ve had various attempts at grocery lists over the years. The paper list, the whiteboard on the refrigerator or my own to-do list on my iPhone. This month we tried a new approach with the Out of Milk app. It’s pretty slick as it syncs across devices, so if my wife updates it, I see it. Also, it integrates with users’ grocery stores and shows them deals and coupons. Bonus points to my Kindle books, which sync across my Kindle, on my iPhone, etc.

How can government quickly sync across devices so employees collecting data in the field can start inputting a case on their phone and it syncs automatically to their computer? Or how can photos from a field inspection be automatically synced to the desktop?

3. Video Saves the Day.
Remember when video cameras were a big deal — large, complicated and expensive? We got a video baby monitor, and I must say it’s a huge difference. Yes, a normal audio baby monitor served folks well for years, but simple video quickly shows what that noise means. Low-cost video is a great way for government to connect field offices or quickly connect an applicant and adjudicator, for example.

4. Data and Analytics.
Our scale finally gave in the other day so it was time for a new one. After sitting at Macy’s looking at lame $30 scales, I made the plunge and got a $100 Fitbit scale. What’s even cooler is the tech ecosystem around it — a mobile app and website track every weigh-in so you can monitor your progress over time. The scale has built-in Wi-Fi and tracks your weight, BMI and fat loss. But what’s more interesting is its use of big data and analytics. The Fitbit tracks your data over time, makes suggestions on dieting and exercise, and integrates with other apps so you can get information about what food to eat, etc.

Government can use the same thinking from providing data and analytics on utilities use to insight on citizens’ Social Security and health benefits.

The next object of my desire is a Nest Learning Thermostat, so I can change the room temperature on my cellphone at 3 a.m. when I wake up cold. That makes my life better.  

At its simplest, technology should be seamless and make life easier. As we explore user-centered design, government should be thinking about how to make citizens’ lives easier, providing a seamless experience to interact with government.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Miriam Jones is chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. She joined e.Republic in 2000 as an editor of Converge magazine.