What the Reality of a Mobile-First Society Means for Local Governments (Industry Perspective)

Technology will help bridge the gap between citizen expectations and public-sector capabilities.

by Rachael Chipman / March 21, 2017

The tipping point came in 2014. That was the year that mobile Internet access surpassed desktop access for the first time. Since then, the usage disparity between desktop and mobile continues to grow. Today, as local governments are feeling the pressure of constrained budgets and limited workday hours, they are looking for tools that allow them to be more nimble and fluid in their workflows. They are looking for ways to do more with less, and they are finding answers in enterprise mobility solutions.

Here’s a scenario to which many professionals in the public sector can relate: It’s 8:47 a.m. and you’re scheduled to present in front of your county legislature at 9 a.m. sharp. You’re standing in the hallway outside the chamber door and see an email pop up on your smartphone from the county sheriff with updated statistics for your presentation. The sheriff explicitly requests that the data in your presentation slides be updated before you present at 9 a.m.

Now it’s 8:48 a.m.

Ten years ago, making such last-minute updates while away from your desk could not have happened. Only five years ago, that scene would have played out with a phone call from the sheriff, an apology and explanation that the presentation was already saved to a CD and not editable, and ad-lib presentation commentary about the outdated information.

Today, thanks to enterprise mobility solutions, here’s the scenario that actually plays out: You pull your tablet out of your bag and open your presentation. Referring to the email from the sheriff, you update the data on slides 8, 12 and 17. You even have time to update one of your charts also using your tablet and drop the new chart onto slide number 20.

You save your presentation at 8:57 a.m., and send a quick email to the sheriff to confirm that you made the requested changes. At 9 a.m., you’re called into the chamber to present. You tether your tablet to the room’s projector and share the latest presentation with the legislature.

It’s thanks to the ubiquity of mobile technology and advances in enterprise applications that this scenario plays out, and that today’s busy professionals can work better and faster, no matter where they are and what type of computing device they’re using.

Technology Solutions

As mobile technology has advanced, software programmers are taking a mobile-first approach to designing enterprise solutions. Understanding the importance of enterprise mobility tools, a wide variety of software solutions are now offering mobile applications, including word processing software, calendars, project management solutions, communication tools, survey tools, email admin tools, cloud storage systems and team collaboration tools.

Advancements in such enterprise applications have led to the trend of ubiquitous computing we see today. Today’s average American worker, whether in the private or public sector, is always connected. Now, workers can seamlessly utilize a system, work on a project or collaborate with a team from anywhere, on any device. A public information officer for a community can start creating a press release on a PC, finish the same document on a tablet while waiting for a meeting to start in a building across town, and edit the document later that night while riding the commuter train home.

To ensure such solutions are effective when used on a smartphone or tablet, over the past few years, developers have even learned to better design mobile software interfaces to optimize an admin user’s experience. For example, larger buttons for touchscreen interaction and intuitive hamburger button navigation make complex computing possible from a mobile device.

Even website content management systems (CMS) are being designed with mobile administrative access. Today, communication managers are given the power to manage key functions of their municipal websites from a smartphone or tablet, allowing them to communicate with citizens anytime, and from anywhere.

Mobile Government Content Management

In today’s digital-first society, citizens expect on-demand news and regular updates on stories and topics that impact their day-to-day lives. One way that communication managers are staying connected when out of the office is with a government CMS with a mobile app component. Some of the most valuable productivity features required of mobile CMS solutions include:

1. Calendars — Community calendars are likely a highly utilized aspect of your local government website. Citizens expect online calendars to be up-to-date and accurate. A regularly accessed calendar that lists inaccurate or outdated information could result in a negative citizen experience. Calendar updates may not take a lot of time and effort, but data accuracy is essential to a positive citizen communication strategy and a positive citizen experience with your administration.

2. Citizen Request Management (CRM) Systems — If you’re already benefiting from a CRM tool to help you receive, report, track and resolve citizen-reported community issues and concerns, imagine how much you could further expedite citizen requests with mobile access to your CRM. Such access would allow you to receive, triage and track requests in real time, and not just from 9 to 5 on weekdays.

The ideal CRM solution will not only offer you mobile administrative access, but will offer a mobile component for citizens as well, allowing them to report community issues on site as they observe them, even taking a photo, or plotting the location of the issue on a map as part of their report.

3. Alert Notifications — For communications that can’t wait until the next business day, you need access to create and distribute alerts to citizens via multiple channels. The ability to craft and send alert messages from a mobile phone or tablet, no matter where you are, could make the crucial difference in reaching citizens with actionable information before they are disrupted.

A CMS with a mobile app component allows you to alert citizens immediately via multiple channels about an unexpected four-way stop at a major intersection with the potential to disrupt holiday traffic, or about the issuance of a boil-water notice essential to avoiding citizen health risks.

4. News Updates — When news breaks in your community, your citizens should hear it from your administration first. Mobile access to your CMS’ news publishing functionality ensures citizens read local breaking news from a credible source first: you. The most robust functionality will allow you to not only create news updates from your smartphone or tablet, but also edit drafts or approve and publish content written by other members of your team.

Looking to the Future

While mobile computing continues to become a way of life, it’s important to note that like all things tech, software applications and the devices they run on will continue to evolve. Engineers and developers are already taking what they’ve learned about enterprise mobility and cloud-based applications and are starting to upscale solutions to accommodate the Internet of Things. Expect to see more interconnectivity across platforms and devices, more cloud-based solutions, and more ways to keep citizens informed and engaged no matter where you are when news breaks.

We predict that as mobile enterprise computing becomes the standard practice for public-sector workers, local governments will continue to use technology solutions available to engage citizens in meaningful ways. From geocaching activities to mobile e-payments to smartphone activity registrations, we anticipate that today’s mobile-minded citizens will not just accept but expect to interact with their local governments anytime, anywhere using their mobile devices.

At the same time, administrators will become more and more unencumbered by desktop limitations and will benefit from the flexibility of immediate access to complex systems, allowing them to further position themselves as the most immediate and reliable source of news and information for citizens in their communities. Using technology to bridge the gap between citizen expectations and local government capabilities will allow local governments to continue to build trust and engage their citizens in meaningful ways, anytime, anywhere.

Rachael Chipman is a product marketing manager at CivicPlus.

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