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Utah Launches Google Glass App for Public Transit

The state tests appetite for wearable technology as part of an overall strategy to better serve mobile users.

Want to find out when the next light rail train arrives in downtown Salt Lake City? Then put on the glasses. Google Glass, that is., the state's portal, has launched OnTime for Glass, the first-of-its-kind transit tracking app for Google Glass.

With the wearable technology, users will be able to receive notifications for an approaching train or bus, view route information and track public transit vehicle locations in real time. The state decided to test the capabilities of the cutting-edge technology as a way to continue offering mobile services to its growing number of users, said David Fletcher, Utah's chief technology officer. "We have a large development community in Utah. You can see people wearing Google Glass around here."

When smartphones first took off, Fletcher felt his state was a little behind the curve in terms of offering mobile services. With the arrival of wearable technology, Utah didn't want to find itself playing catch-up again. "By creating a Glass app now, we can see what the interface is like and how people are responding to it, before it becomes mainstream," said Fletcher.

The use of mobile services in state government is exploding in Utah and around the country. Last year, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers launched a catalog that currently contains more than 225 mobile apps covering 20 different types of services. In Utah, between 20 and 25 percent of visitors to the state's portal are mobile users. "In the last three days we've had 647 different types of mobile devices access our domain," Fletcher pointed out. "You'll see everything from PlayStation gaming devices to mobile phone platforms from just about every device manufacturer imaginable, and tablet devices as well."

Of the 1.65 million unique visitors to in January, nearly 400,000 were mobile users. Utah's population is 2.8 million.

Utah heavily promotes its online services in large part because of the cost savings. The number of state employees has been declining, while demand for services continues to rise. The cost to conduct an online transaction is a fraction of what it costs when humans are involved, said Fletcher. When the online transaction occurs on a mobile device, the state not only saves money, but it gains some context about the customer.

"With their permission, we can get the mobile user's geolocation and provide information and services based on their location," Fletcher said. "Many people are looking for jobs and employment services right now. When they access our portal via a mobile device, we can give them information that's relevant to where they are."

Fletcher said he expected the demand for mobile services to take off, given the rapid growth in smartphones and tablet computers. "But our overall [online] growth has surprised us." Last year, the state expected the number of unique visitors to grow from 1.2 million to 1.45 million. Instead, it surged to 1.65 million. "To gain an extra 200,000 unique visitors in that time frame is quite an accomplishment," said Fletcher.

In 2013, Utah's portal was ranked second best in the country by the Center for Digital Government (CDG). The CDG is a division of e.Republic, which is also the parent company of Government Technology.

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.