Mobile Future

Memo for the incoming Federal CTO

The incoming Obama-Biden Administration is pledging "a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens." It’s also promising greater international cooperation to solve common problems.

So here’s a suggestion to the administration’s incoming CTOs and CIOs that can address both worthy goals simultaneously: Start implementing the kinds of technology-based constituent outreach and services at home that other nations have successfully used for years.

Start with wireless. Several governments and political parties around the world have successfully adopted mobile technologies to deliver important services and improve constituent communication. Their success should serve as models for the Obama-Biden administration. Here’s a sampling:

  • The Department of Labor in the Philippines sends information via SMS to job seekers about domestic and international job openings.
  • In South Africa, the Democratic Government leader launched an SMS-based service to keep in contact with voters, allowing them to vote on issues and ask questions in real time to government leaders.
  • Using two-way SMS communication, the New Zealand Labour Party encourages constituents to question Members of Parliament wirelessly. Answers are sent via SMS and posted online.
  • The government of Singapore offers numerous mobile features through its "e-citizen" campaign including SMS alerts about passport renewal, tax renewal, election information, and real time crime alerts.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported about using mobile phones to keep Americans informed about the spread of the flu, both through a WAP-based mobile site, and through opt-in SMS alerts offering information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Of course SMS technology does have its limitations. It can’t be relied upon to deliver time-sensitive alerts to a large number of phones simultaneously, and the traffic volumes created by widespread adoption of SMS messaging mean that new texting technologies will be needed before new messaging applications can be deployed. The Federal Communications Commission has been working with the public safety community and the wireless industry to develop a new system, using a new technology, for reliably sending emergency alerts from federal, state, and local government to wireless devices.

With so many opportunities to embrace wireless technologies, the Obama-Biden administration should look to these and other successful programs around the world as models for similar programs in the U.S.