Imagine showing up at the DMV with just your phone and getting a new license or registration without being told you don’t have the right form?

Pega Director of Mobile Marketing Steve O’Brien recently wrote an e-book titled Avoiding the Mobile Hangover: 7 Steps to Mobile App Success. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think how appropriate this is for government’s mobile first priority that is in full swing right now. In Steve’s opening he writes …

"The new world of smart mobile devices is like a really great party. People arrive in a good mood, full of optimism, anticipating a great, fun experience. But too often companies indulge on mobility without regard for the consequences. What results is a mobile hangover where users are confused, IT is frustrated, and enterprise security is threatened."

These sentences capture my thoughts and concerns around our current mobile first initiatives in government. Often, the public sector has great intentions of creating more convenient services for constituents, yet the outlying consequences aren’t examined and then the unexpected occurs. I decided to have a chat with Steve about the potential implications for these government mobile-first initiatives. The following is the first of a two-part Q/A session:

Cathy Novak: Many government organizations have recently established mobile first as a priority. Their goal is to improve operational efficiencies, streamline services, and make government easier to access. What advice do you have, based on your experience in the private sector, for these government organizations?

Steve: “Mobile first” has been an overused buzz phrase in the private sector for a couple of years, and the original intent of the phrase was good, which was to get developers, IT, and business function owners to think about the way users would be consuming information. It was designed to stop designing applications for big screens and browsers when the majority of users are consuming apps on tiny screens on mobile devices. But “mobile first” doesn’t mean mobile ONLY. Sticking an app in the app store that’s not connected to any other applications or business processes or departments is a recipe for disaster.

Successful companies in the private sector are now embracing more of an “omni-channel” approach to customer service. I may begin a transaction online from my desktop or laptop, call the company to ask a question or resolve an issue, and then complete the transaction on my mobile device while waiting in line at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s three different channels for a single transaction or interaction. So while “mobile first” thinking makes it possible, it wouldn’t work if it were mobile only.

If you think that example sounds far-fetched, just think about your most recent travel experience. Almost all travel today is booked online or on a mobile device, the check-in process usually occurs by interacting with a live agent, and tickets can be displayed using an app rather than a printed piece of paper. That’s three different channels, online, in person, and mobile, for every travel transaction. And we don’t think anything of it. It all just works. That’s the same experience that government should strive to deliver.

Cathy: You mention application silos in your e-book. In government, the term silos refer not only to application silos, but also to programmatic silos. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for one department or agency program to access and/or share information with another one. How can a mobile first strategy help, or hamper, the removal of these silos?

Steve: Architecturally the right answer is to NOT have silo’d programs and NOT build silo’d applications. But in the real world there are reasons for doing just that. Sure, it would be great if the Department of Motor Vehicles had access to medical records so they know which drivers require eyeglasses. But it would be a privacy nightmare, and completely unreasonable, for every DMV employee to have access to the complete health records of every licensed driver.

In this case, a mobile first strategy can help to alleviate the problems simply by making information more readily accessible to authorized users. The biggest complaint most people have with government, and I’m talking about employees as well as constituents (customers!!), is the amount of documentation required for everything, including proof of insurance, proof of payment, tax receipts, licenses, registrations, certificates, authorizations, and on and on. In a mobile first environment, all of these things can be delivered and accessible via mobile devices. Imagine showing up at the DMV with just your phone and getting a new license or registration without being told you don’t have the right form/receipt/proof/document? How about not going to the DMV at all and just renewing your license using the camera on your cell phone and a mobile payment? Well, one can dream…

Cathy: You talk about the unique power contained in modern mobile devices…Can you give some examples using government applications you are familiar with?

Steve: Sure! When Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast in 2012 it caused massive destruction in New York and New Jersey. When FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) inspectors showed up they were carrying Android-based tablets to collect assessment details, capture images of damage, and record precise location data. That information was sent wirelessly to FEMA’s HQ and shared with state and local officials for a coordinated response. All that was possible because they built an app specifically for that purpose called Preliminary Disaster Assessment (PDA). And part of the impetus for building that app came from the difficulty they had in capturing and sharing that information during previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Amtrak is a publicly funded railroad service operating as a for-profit corporation. Five years ago, conductors on the Amtrak trains spent their journeys walking up and down the aisles, collecting paper tickets and punching holes in the receipts. Satchels full of tickets would be sent to a central revenue center in Texas for accounting. It took weeks for Amtrak to know how much revenue was generated for each train and each route. If you’ve been on Amtrak lately, you know that conductors now walk briskly down the aisle scanning each passenger ticket with a specially equipped iPhone. Amtrak now knows in real time what the route utilization rates are and can measure profitability immediately. Not to mention that most of the passengers are displaying their tickets on mobile devices, not printed on paper.

Check back next week for the second part of this Q/A. Read Steve’s eBook Avoiding the Mobile Hangover: 7 Steps to Mobile App Success for more valuable information and advice!