If government wants to meet its citizens where they are, it should deliver services via mobile
A decade ago, renewing a driver’s license meant taking hours off work and standing in an interminable line. Registering a new business required calls or visits to several government agencies, filling out lengthy forms and making multiple payments to cover various agencies’ registration fees.
Today, a citizen might complete those tasks while waiting for an elevator or standing in line at the grocery store.
The difference? A soaring base of constituents who expect to be able to interact with government day or night, quickly and efficiently, wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them — using mobile devices.
In other words, if government wants to meet its citizens where they are, it should deliver services via mobile.
In many states, the perception still exists that mobile devices aren’t widely used to access government services. Some believe the costs of mobile devices and service plans prevent all but the wealthy from owning them, while others believe limited rural-area connectivity prevents reliable service for too many constituents. In many cases, these beliefs are far from the truth.
The growing mobile-only population
The number of regions lacking connectivity is dwindling, and smartphone data plans are more affordable than traditional home Internet connections are in many areas.
Numerous studies have documented the skyrocketing, nationwide growth of smartphone use. In addition, a 2015 Pew report revealed that nearly 20 percent of Americans access online services using their smartphones either because they don’t have Internet access at home or because they have few options for online access apart from their mobile phones. Seven percent of the population relies exclusively on smartphones for online access. Rather than being wealthy, these users tend to be younger, minorities and lower-income households.
Because government is established to serve all citizens, it must provide services that are accessible to everyone, including the growing population of mobile-only users. Effectively serving those users — and the millions of others who gravitate toward smartphone use because of its convenience — means more than simply making government forms mobile-ready online. It requires new thinking that focuses on creating a satisfying citizen experience.
Re-evaluating mobile delivery
In one example, Arkansas re-engineered a process for unclaimed property filings, first designing a mobile experience that suited constituents, and then working backward to achieve what state government needed.
Claiming unclaimed property required citizens to get notarized verification of ownership. Finding and engaging the services of a notary public, though, turned out to be a barrier that prevented many people from claiming what was rightfully theirs.
To ease the claim process for its growing number of mobile users, the state established an identity verification system that no longer required a notary’s service. Government decision-makers also recognized that users whose claims originated from mobile devices were unlikely to have access to printers that would allow them to mail in or fax the claim forms, so the revised system allowed citizens to submit their claims via a smartphone.
The state also ran ads about unclaimed property during the time people were most likely to conduct searches on their phones — while they’re at home watching TV in the evenings — and adapted the process so it can be completed from start to finish via users’ mobile devices. These changes boosted total filings for unclaimed property by 134 percent in the first year, with 71 percent of filings originating from mobile devices.
Delivery on a mobile device might not work for every government service, but far more services could be provided via mobile than are available today. While certain services may need to remain desktop-based, many other services can become mobile-ready if government leaders are willing to consider providing a slightly different customer experience.
Mobile delivery of every government service?
For example, lengthy forms might not translate to smaller mobile screens and keypads, but government can review such forms to eliminate duplication or otherwise streamline them. Or, a mapping application might not be able to display an entire map on a mobile screen. However, government could provide a list of key map point options, sorted by distance first, allowing the user to easily secure the needed information. As long as users can achieve the desired outcome, the experience doesn’t have to mirror exactly the desktop computer experience.
To decide which — or whether all — of its services can or should be delivered via mobile, government leaders should think through three areas:
There’s no longer a question about the value of mobile delivery in government. The focus now should shift to how government can leverage mobile devices to create great citizen experiences for a large portion of constituents.
- Solve constituents’ pain points. People sometimes feel anxious accessing government services because they don’t know what steps to take or which agency oversees the process they need to complete. Mobile delivery can help alleviate such pain points. For example, agencies can work collaboratively to create a single process that allows citizens to complete transactions from their smartphones across multiple levels of government.
- Create greater citizen engagement. Mobile is an ideal platform for engaging citizens because most people monitor their smartphones throughout the day. In Arkansas, the State Highway and Transportation Department reaches more than 80 percent of drivers in the state thanks to a mobile-optimized site, IDriveArkansas.com. This high level of citizen engagement allows the department to reach citizens at critical times, such as during a winter weather event.
- Ease the burden of compliance. Government can increase citizen compliance with required tasks, such as paying taxes, through a mobile approach. For example, text notifications are one way government can remind users of deadlines and allow them to complete the required task in the moment using their phones.
Editor’s Note: This was originally published in Government Technology magazine September 14, 2016