We’ve all been there. That moment when we sit down to lunch, coffee, or just spending time with friends, and suddenly realize that every person in the room is zoned out on their smartphone.
But despite unfortunate scenarios like these, much of mobile technology can enhance the ease of our existence and even help government do its job better.
Chris Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, spoke with Mark Goldstein, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, on the transition to mobile technologies for client-facing government websites. Goldstein recently helped the GAO publish a report entitled “Mobile Devices: Federal Agencies’ Steps to Improve Mobile Access to Government and Information Services.”
The GAO’s report made some critical findings on the demographics of mobile technology. “In certain groups such as young people, college-educated people, and above average income people, [mobile technology] is growing very, very quickly,” Goldstein explained. “In other groups, it’s not growing quite as fast, and that would be groups such as senior citizens, rural populations, and people with lower incomes.
This data will help the government assess where it’s critical to focus its attention. For the populations that use mobile technology the most, the government is under extra pressure to ensure their mobile platforms work smoothly, as smartphones or tablets might be these people’s primary access to government services.
So what sorts of challenges does the new mobile world pose to the government?
Making websites mobile-friendly is one challenge – and it’s not as simple as it may sound. The government is trying to transition to mobile with something called Responsive Design. “It’s not just shrinking down your normal webpage or desktop site,” explains Goldstein. “If you’re simply reading a website on a smartphone, you’re not going to be able to use it effectively or intelligently.” Rather than just compressing, the government needs to be doing entire face-lifts and reformatting for thousands of its websites.
Another challenge? It takes a great deal of money to get all this necessary work done.
“Depending on the website, it ranged from about $50,000 to several hundred dollars per site,” said Goldstein. “And so if you do the math and multiply that by the 11,000 websites out there that the government operates, we’re talking a lot of money.”
It becomes a matter of prioritization and careful selection of the websites that consumers need mobile access to the most. FEMA, for instance, is a priority, because when disaster strikes, people might not be able to sit down at their home computers to access the site.
The smaller government agencies are the ones that are finding developing mobile technologies to be the most difficult. However, OMB and GSA are assisting them in the transition by helping develop priorities and providing technical assistance and guidance on agency requirements.
Gone are the days of blissful screen-free family dinners and reading novels before bed every evening. Love it or hate it, cell phones and tablets are here to stay – and government is doing its best to make sure their information is mobile accessible. This connected world, according to Goldstein, is “the new normal.”
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