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Open Source

Government-Issued Mobility

From policy makers to first responders, government
is taking a lesson from the enterprise.

By Lee Sherman

Doing more with less has become the mandate for government agencies tasked with trimming costs and improving efficiencies, accountability, access and responsiveness. It seems a Herculean task. But mobility can help. And government can learn from the example set by private enterprise. By putting mobile devices in the hands of government workers in the field, government agencies can empower decision makers to more quickly respond to the needs of constituents. By first integrating existing information systems and then extending those systems to mobile devices, government can leverage its existing investment in information infrastructure.

In a recent study, “Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2005-2009 Forecast and Analysis,” analysis firm IDC notes the increasing trend toward mobility by government agencies at both the local and federal levels. Many have already initiated pilot projects and even full-scale rollouts. BlackBerry wireless handhelds are so ubiquitous among legislators on Capitol Hill that when the service was threatened with a shutdown as a result of a recent patent dispute, the scuttlebutt turned to talk of a government intervention. Still, mobility continues to play its part in the effective functioning of government institutions.

A good example is the U.S. military. Numbering more than 2 million, with a presence in 146 countries, military personnel are involved in missions ranging from fighting wars to providing humanitarian assistance and homeland security. Whether they are responding to an attack on U.S. soil or a natural disaster, real-time access to actionable information is mission critical. Ruggedized and powerful handheld devices equipped with cellular communications and GPS service are now as much a part of the modern soldier’s armament as an AK-47 assault rifle. Wireless devices make it possible for military intelligence to flow seamlessly throughout the entire chain of command.

Elsewhere, the idea of eGovernment has made mobile access to information systems a priority. The European Union is on an aggressive path to deliver eGovernment services to all of its citizens. In Belgium, the government has established an online portal that provides its 10 million citizens with everything from up-to-the-second election results to tax filing and business and driver registration. The technology behind the portal is based on common standards for Web services that make bringing new services online a trivial matter and mobile access a given.
With cellular technology so entrenched that many citizens no longer bother to maintain landlines, Europe is a natural place for the delivery of government services to mobile devices. The ability to access e-services on mobile devices is being facilitated by the widespread growth of 3G networks.

The European Union sees such access as a key element in its efforts to promote a pan-European, knowledge-based economy. Another factor driving the rapid adoption of e-services is the development of high-speed infrastructure to access the Internet, specifically broadband and other high-speed connections. Here, too, mobility has an important role to play. Wi-Fi and its follow-ons, including WiMAX, can be effective in extending e-services into the public spaces where citizens congregate, including libraries, parks and even the lobbies of government buildings. What these examples have in common is the recognition that mobility can no longer be an afterthought in government efforts to modernize technology infrastructure. Indeed, mobile access is key to the effective functioning of any democracy.


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