Harry Hare (Kenya) - Forget e-Government Let's Embrace m-Government

With mobile device penetration hugely outstripping computer penetration and the increased uptake of mobile Internet in the region, mobile services are quickly emerging as the new frontier in public service transformation. This in essence makes public services more accessible and citizen-centric by extending the benefits of remote delivery of government services and information to those who are unable or unwilling to access public services through the traditional Internet.

This emerging trend in public service delivery, or as fondly referred to as m-Government, is part of a broader phenomenon of mobile-enabled development (m-development) leveraging the mobile revolution to enable development impact.

m-Government takes public services and makes them available via mobile devices such as mobile phones and PDAs, bypassing the need for traditional physical networks. As more advanced mobile devices become more common, and faster rates of data transfer become possible, more useful and higher value-added mobile services will be possible and expected from all levels of governments (especially municipal), in different areas and sectors.

In the last two years, we have seen the public sector coming up with innovative mobile applications. Simple Short Message Services (SMS) database queries have made a huge impact saving people time, money and long journeys to government offices. For instance parents who had children who sat the Kenya Secondary Certificate Examination, could get the results of their by sending a simple SMS from their mobile phone to a designated number and get the results instantly.

The same service has been extended to many other departments including the immigration department where one can query the status of their passport application; one can also get information on their voting status through a similar service from the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC).

A recent study commissioned by the Kenya ICT Board and conducted by TNS Research International indicated that 45% of Internet users in Kenya access it through their mobile phones. What this means is, we have the potential to make e-Government more inclusive if we choose to use mobile devises as the delivery channel. And this is especially so in the Government to Citizens (G2C) realm of e-Government.

And with the increased numbers and the sophistication in mobile applications witnessed in the region lately, there is no doubt that at the G2C level, m-Government will have a bigger impact than e-Government. This in itself is a good thing, as it brings government services not just closer to the people but personal and everywhere.

From a governance point of view, deploying m-Government should be part of the larger government transformation programme. This can then be used to strategically broaden public service access and impact on its citizenry. Its implementation should involve the utilization of all sorts of wireless and mobile technologies, services, applications and devices. for improving the benefits of the parties involved in e-Government including citizens, businesses and all government units.

Granted, there are already m-Government services in some ministries, but these again are outcomes of "successful accidents" than planned deployments. It is my considered opinion that the Government should spend at least 50% of its technology budget in developing and deploying m-Government applications, this will result in increase and efficient access to public services and a happy tax paying citizenry.

Harry Hare is a a Director at African eDevelopment Resource Centre, a training and consulting firm based in Nairobi, Kenya and the publisher of CIO East Africa.



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