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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Mobile Technology: Shaping the Public Sector’s Future

Smartphones and tablets have definitely changed the way we live. In fact, the total number of mobile users has already surpassed the PC users, according to a Pew Internet 2013 report. These figures have driven CIOs to adopt new strategies to build, connect, secure, and satisfy their customers. With people chanting phrases like “there’s an app for that”, the gap between what’s in the market today and expectations from the end-users are finally closing.

However, as we’re fast-approaching the “Mobile Only” era, the government has been a late adopter of technology. As Steven VanRoekel, US Federal CIO, once said “For too long, the government has employed 20th-century tools to solve 21st-century problems.” But things are changing as we move forward through this age, and we’re also seeing the dawn of wearable technology and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. So, what does the future hold for the public sector?

Public and Private Collaboration

Mark Adams-Wright, O2’s Head of Local Government, said in an interview with Mobile Today that “'Technology holds the key to helping the public sector make crucial savings – whether through policies and devices to empower staff to work more flexibly, or a mobile app to make it easier for local authorities to engage with communities.”

This is in line with the company’s recent project to encourage local government councils to pitch mobile applications, which can help their workers communicate and collaborate with the citizens. The winning ideas will be granted £250,000 worth of funds for their digital projects. “We once again want to help authorities across the UK tackle the challenges in their local area by engaging staff, citizens and communities through technology." Wright added.

Tapping the Citizen to Transform their Society

Nowadays, more citizens are becoming more digitally-empowered, and traditional barriers that kept consumers from producers are now broken. Companies have now realized the value of co-creation; where the private sector actively engages the public sector to listen to their wants and needs. They finally realized that it’s more lucrative to follow this model, since the consumers have something to say. Also, the government followed suit and decided to leverage on their citizens. Thanks to the ubiquity of smart devices, it became the perfect platform to encourage people to help transform the public sector.

Creating New Solutions with People

One example would be Flu-Ville; a mobile game which allowed players to build their own cities and manage flu outbreaks. The data used on the game was patterned after the real-time data from publicly-available influenza data. It was the brainchild of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who saw the potential of tapping the citizen to create new solutions with them.

Sharing These Solutions with Others

Aside from game contests, local governments can also share solutions they’ve just discovered. Code for America, a California-based tech organization, developed the Adopt-a-Hydrant application that allowed the citizens of Boston to claim responsibility for a fire hydrant. After a heavy snowfall, their duty was to make sure that it was shoveled out. Due to its success, the Honolulu government adopted the idea for their tsunami sirens. People “adopted” a siren, checked its battery, and sent a report to them.

Helping Each Other Out During Times of Calamity

After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast area, most of the citizens of the tri-state area were either stranded or caught in traffic gridlocks. Since the city of New York imposed a 3-passenger minimum on each vehicle entering the city, people decided to utilize social media to help people out. Laura Kotz, a resident of Brooklyn shared that "I work in Jersey City and live in Brooklyn. It just seems really perfect for this situation and I wish there was a way to get the word out to more people." Since the local government has its hands full, people turned to their tablets and phones to offer help, anyway they can.

Eventually, the public sector needs to adopt mobile technologies to propel itself into the future. As more devices are being developed, the government has to understand how these can help them engage with their citizens. We’ve seen how the different mobile platforms can help people in times of need and deliver proper services. Technology will always be the perfect equalizer.

Kyle Albert loves to write about mobile technology and its effect on our lives. He loves to research about trends in open source and visits Verizon Explore for the latest tech news. Follow Kyle on Google+ and Twitter.

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