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MWC 2009: Building Mobile Governance

By: NMK Created on: February 25th, 2009
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As mobile technologies continue to impact increasing areas of our everyday lives, NMK’s Chris Lee met up with one firm looking to enable mobile government.

Last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Howard Stevens of mobile messaging services company Sybase 365 presented to delegates on the subject of mobile government – ‘m-government’ – both in practice and its massive potential. NMK caught up with Stevens backstage to hear more and find out just who in the UK should be driving m-government.

Precedent Obama

Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign was the first to engage social networking and WAP canvassing. Followers who signed up for updates from “Obama Mobile” could look forward to regular updates from the Democrats’ camp. Indeed, the selection of Joe Biden as vice presidential candidate was announced via the service ahead of its release to the press, which was another first.

On election night Sybase 365 measured 1.2 billion text messages sent during the five hours between 4pm-9pm roughly the time in which it became apparent that Obama would win. This was a massive leap from the daily average of around 548,000 and, for Stevens, underlined the importance of mobile communications in politics.

“Barack Obama realised that by using text messaging updates he could bypass the tradition media and maintain control over his message,” he said. “As long as it’s not intrusive politicians can update voters and even change their message according to the feedback they receive.”

Stevens says that US studies demonstrate that text reminders encourage an improvement in voter numbers. In one local election in 2006 text messages were sent to voters reminding them to register to vote, then later to turn up at the polls and an increase of four per cent in voter turnout was recorded.

Text Pistols

All across the world now there are examples of citizens being able to interact with government via mobile devices, such as paying utility bills and receiving updates. So what of the opportunity for m-government in the UK? Stevens says that despite initiatives such as the London 2012 ‘Back the Bid’ campaign, there is still a way to go.

stevenssybase

Above, Stevens, Sybase

“Governments always follow the corporate lead. What needs to happen is governments need to formulate policies to drive m-government forward,” he told NMK. “At the moment [in the UK] there is no central control over m-government developments. The NHS is a major driver at the minute and I anticipate we’ll see patient appointment bookings and reminders, plus the ability to securely access your personal health data via mobile devices.”

So just who should be leading m-government initiatives in the UK? Stevens believes a holistic approach is required rather than development by individual departments.

Party Political Broadcast

Stevens believes that events across the pond will not have gone unnoticed by political parties here and will play an increased role in the next UK general election. Voters should be able to opt in and out of updates, he said, as text spam would be unlikely to win parties many friends.

“The main parties can’t afford to ignore what took place in the US. Using mobile communications to update followers and potential voters may not decide the outcome but if it’s a close call it could prove critical,” he concluded.

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