Time for m-governance

Time for m-governance

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K Prashant
Alumni of IIM Indore
Email: [email protected]

In the last ten years, we have seen how mobile phones can empower citizens and affect the way citizens interact with each other and with society at large. Mobile phones are also considered to be an effective tool in strengthening democracy through better citizen-government interaction, thus influencing the political decision making process and making governments accountable for their activities.

M-governance is a sub-domain of e-governance. It ensures that electronic services are available to people via mobile technologies using devices such as mobile phones. These services bypass the need for traditional physical networks for communications and collaboration. Mobile services are also cheaper as well as accessible in most of the rural areas in India and/or Asian countries. M-governance is not a replacement of e-governance; rather it complements it. Mobile applications also rely on good back office information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and work processes: governance networks and databases, data quality procedures, transaction recording processes, etc.

Why do we need mobile phones for governance?
There is no need to re-emphasise the importance of ICT systems in good governance. ICT, as seen in many developed countries, facilitates a free flow of information between the government and citizens and opens up opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making processes that directly affect them. But why do we need mobile phones for governance? Can they act as a new interface between the government and citizens? Or is it just another hype that often accompanies the latest technical breakthroughs?

World over, we have seen that mobile phones help create an informative, connected, innovative, participative and converging societies. But then what is the rationale behind use of mobile phones for governance in India?

  1. Access – Penetration rate of mobile phones in India is ever increasing. Also, more people gain access to phones through shared usage and ownership. In addition, mobile phones add the dimension of ‘anywhere and anytime’ to the usage.
  2. Reach – Due to its mobility and network infrastructure, mobiles can reach areas where there is no other ICT infrastructure (like internet, fixed lines).
  3. Adoption – Since mobile phones are becoming an integral part of people’s lives, m-commerce and m-government will become the usual way of doing business. Further, there is an increasing public demand for mobility and easy access to services.
  4. Interaction – Mobile phones make real-time, two-way dialogue possible as opposed to radio, brochures, posters, public speeches, etc.
  5. Costs – The relatively lower cost of mobile phone technology versus internet technology has lowered the entry barriers for poor people.
  6. Efficiency – Due to high access, reach, adoption and real-time interaction, mobile phones offer efficient solutions to government’s communication challenges.
  7. No other option – In developing regions with poor infrastructure, going mobile may be the only viable option.


Potential of mobile governance in India
Mobile phones have tremendous potential to expand the access and reach of public services in India. The rapidly expanding subscriber base of mobile phone users in India can help in accelerating the use of modern ICTs for improving governance and ushering in inclusive development. The number of mobile phone subscribers in India, on September 30, 2010, stood at over 687 million and the overall teledensity was 60.99 per cent*. Out of the total subscribers, the share of rural subscribers was 32.3 per cent and the rural teledensity was 24.29 per cent, as per March 31, 2010*. The total subscriber base of mobile phone users is projected to grow to one billion by 2012*. The huge user base of mobile phones in India presents an unprecedented opportunity to expand the reach of public services to every resident, especially in rural areas.

The relevance of mobile platform as a medium for delivery of public services is also evident when we compare the subscriber base of mobile phones to that of the internet. The total number of internet users in India at the end of 2009 was only 81 million* and the total number of broadband subscribers (with connection speed of >256 Kbps) was only 10.29 million as on September 30, 2010*. Wide access to mobile phones in the country has made it an ideal platform for government and resident interface, especially in rural areas.


Source: ICT at a Glance, World Bank

Source: TRAI

Global examples

  1. Bahrain e-Services

    M-governance became a part of the national e-governance strategy because

    • Over 100 per cent mobile penetration
    • Comfort levels of customers with mobile devices
    • Availability of the latest technology – 3G facility
    • Customers showed inclination towards availing services through mobile channels

    The Government in Bahrain offers the following services through mobile phones

    • Informational services – Flight information, currency convertor, etc.
    • Transactional services – Check your blood record, tracking of postal packages, graduation results, etc.
    • Payment services (still under development) – Electricity bill payment, traffic contravention, etc. Payment will be through credit card and card details will be stored in the database.

    Critical success factors

    National level strategy and policy on m-government

    • Right content/ need for content development
    • Choice of technology platform
    • Public Private Partnership (PPP)
    • Effective demand for m-government
        o Transaction cost o Communication and change management
  2. ‘Go Mobile with Government’, Singapore

    Mobile service delivery has been identified as a strategic mode for Singapore’s iGov 2010 master plan and currently more than 300 public services are available through mobile technology in the country. Some of these services include:

    • Checking information regarding bank accounts, property, investments, etc
    • Accessing weather forecast information
    • E-Appointment alert – SMS is sent to a person one day before appointments
    • SMS alerts for passport renewal, road tax renewal
    • Public crime alert services via SMS of crimes in the neighbourhood
    • Key economic statistical SMS service providing national economy estimates, consumer price index, wholesale trade index, etc.
    • Traffic information and payment of traffic offenses
  3. ‘We’ve Gone Mobile’, Canada

    The Government of Canada Wireless Portal is an evolving project which aims to make most government services available to citizens through their mobile phones. Some of the services available are:

    • Information regarding current Border Wait time for crossing the Canada-United States border
    • Currency converter
    • Economic indicators
    • Exchange rates
    • Government of Canada employee phone numbers
    • Member of Parliament contact information
    • Weather forecast
  4. mDubai
    The Government of Dubai through its e-governance initiative has developed a mDubai portal which provides details of various push and pull services available to its citizens. The services offered are primarily based on SMS services. Some of the services available are:
    • Salik registration/ payment
    • Prayer timings
    • Trade license status/ fees
    • Case information
    • Traffic fines

Indian initiatives and pilots

M-governance service
For a mature m-government service, there’s a need to provide transaction oriented services to citizens. However, introduction of transactional services require a step-by-step transformation – from simple information based services over SMS to application based services using WAP/3G, etc.

SMS based services
SMS form the simplest of the services and can be used to provide information using Push / Pull based services.

USSD Services
Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD) is a session based service unlike sms which is store and forward service. It can be used by the user to send command to an application in text format. USSD acts as a trigger for the application.

Bluetooth based services
Bluetooth can be used for exchange of information among bluetooth compatible devices in close proximity. It could also be used through a compatible handset to access application on another device.


WiFi/Wimax/WLan based Service
A mobile phone can be used to connect to internet, using wi-fi or wireless connection, to access applications.

3G based services
With the introduction of 3G services, mobile phones can directly connect to internet to access any online application or to process request using a mobile based application and transmitting data/ information/ transaction using 3G connections.

Location-aware applications
The use of GPS will provide another option for m-government applications to be tailored to a specific location. The citizen or government employee will be able to access specific information about services, facilities and specific requirements in the immediate area. For example, City Guides which provides information about location of historical structures/ buildings, government offices and interactive commercial services.

Critical issues for m-government applications
It is easy to build expectations but difficult to regain trust. Citizens who are turned off by their experience with m-government are not only harder to lure back but will also bad mouth about it to others. Thus, it is important to:

  • Choose m-government applications wisely. Make sure they are non-trivial and also not very difficult.
  • Make sure that the application is user-friendly. Balance your need for information with the comfort (or frustration) level of user with the technology.
  • In deploying m-government applications, ensure that citizens get exactly what the application claims to be able to deliver in the shortest possible time. If it is a channel to receive complaints, be sure to regularly get back to complainants about the status of their complaint until it is resolved.
  • Ensure that there are suitable back-office systems in place to deliver on m-government promises.

Privacy and security
Since wireless networks involves broadcast of signals over public airwaves, they are vulnerable to attacks by hackers. Hence, privacy and security issues must be addressed in the planning phase itself, and are likely to impact the timing or selection of a specific type of wireless service.

Accessibility
As government entities pursue plans to provide access to m-government information and services via text to wireless access devices, they should also facilitate making the information more accessible to citizens through the web and other communication technologies.

M-government benefits and challenges
M-government can bring potential benefits to the public sector. However, the task is full of challenges.

Benefits

  • Increasing the productivity of public service personnel.
  • Improving the delivery of government information and services: m-government can deliver data and services whenever and wherever the citizen is.
  • Increasing channels for public interactions: m-government provides an additional channel for interaction among its stakeholders – service deliverers, policy makers, service consumers, civil society representatives.


Challenges

  • Cost – M-government is another channel of e-government, thus leading to additional costs.
  • m-Digital divide – Everyone does not have a mobile phone, especially, older and poorer groups in society.
  • Mobile mindsets – Mobile devices, cell phones particularly, are seen by many as tools for fun and entertainment than for serious activities.
  • Trust/ security – If m-government is to encompass m-payment systems or other transactional public services, then it should have tamper-proof security.
  • Data overload – The service can lead to an increase in the number of messages being circulated among people – some valuable, some not – thus leading to devaluation of public service communications

Implementation strategy

Mobile phones are now recognised as the largest service delivery platform throughout the world. In order to leverage the potential of mobile devices as the service delivery platform, following policy initiatives can be proposed:

  • Creation of Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG)
  • Development and notification of standards for mobile applications
  • Notification of long codes, short codes and m-Gov number for mobile governance
  • Creation of m-Governance Innovation Fund
  • Development of knowledge portal and knowledge management system for mobile government

*References

  • Subhash Bhatnagar, e-Governance Using Mobile Platform.
  • Rameesh Kailasam, m-Governance Leveraging Mobile Technology to extend the reach of e-Governance.
  • Diatha Krishna Sundar & Shashank Garg , M-Governance:A Framework for Indian Urban Local Bodies.
  • Manish Kumar and Omesh Prasad Sinha, M-Government – Mobile Technology for e-Government.
  • Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Consultation Paper On GROWTH OF TELECOM SERVICES IN RURAL INDIA – The Way Forward.
  • Boston Analytics , A Study of the Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) Market in India October 2007.