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Improving Government – One Tablet at a Time

Over the weekend, I read a great NY Times article entitled “Making Us Safer, One iPad at a Time”.

In this article, the author Steven Cohen describes the current case of judicial paperwork. Basically, when an officer arrests an individual, the officer writes info by hand into memo books, clerks decipher these memos and enter into data systems, and the forms are faxed to prosecutors’ offices where new clerks re-enter the info. Information is often misinterpreted along the way, leading to failed prosecutions.

Cohen argues that with an iPad and either voice recognition software or simple touch program, agencies can save thousands of hours and dollars by having the officer enter the information once – the first time it’s in their mind.

I think there is a huge opportunity here for government to improve government by bringing together tablets and new software. In particular, I see two pieces of low-hanging fruit:

1. Data Collection: Any form of data collection that requires multiple steps can easily be done with tablets and the price point is so low (Android tablets are around $200 and the iPad Mini is at $350). Imagine property surveyors, building inspectors, field agents all easily completing initial data collection with a tablet and simple mobile workflow software.

2. Service Delivery: Imagine government-issued tablets at libraries and government buildings designated to be used to transact government services. Want to request SNAP benefits? You could wait in line, but you can also use the stationed tablets next to the service desk to quickly fill out yourself (like the self-checkins at airports versus talking to a gate agent)

What do you see as the biggest use cases for tablets in government?

What processes could be fixed in your agency?

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Jeffrey J Kontur

I think your second point does not require a tablet. In fact an old desktop PC could be repurposed as a new kiosk PC. Since these are essentially single-purpose devices, this is a perfect use for them.

Having said that, Delaware DHSS has been doing something like this for a while now. We have field staff who inspect nursing homes and long term care facilities. They also investigate complaints. The department was looking for a collection of small devices to facilitate their job:

  • Laptop with WiFi and/or aircard to access office systems remotely.
  • Portable scanner to digitize documents, handwritten statements, etc.
  • Voice recorder to make verbal notes, take statements, etc.
  • Digital camera to document findings, unsafe conditions, etc.
  • GPS to be able to find nursing facilities in unfamiliar areas.

Luckily, they brought me into the project early. I suggested they all be issued smartphones. A single device could accomplish every single thing they wanted.

Granted, I wouldn’t want a smartphone to be my only computer but for the very light computing purposes of these investigators while they were out in the field, it was suitable.

The department was happy, the investigators were happy and the state saved a bundle. Win all around.

Elizabeth Fischer Laurie

I think one way my agency (GSA) could use tablets would be on market surveys. My understanding is that our Project Managers or Contracting Officers go out to look at spaces and take notes that must then be translated into a formal report back at the office. A tablet would allow them to enter information real time and get the report to client agencies much more quickly, especially since GSA reps try to do as much as possible in a visit to save on travel costs.


Good point Jeffrey – a bunch of form factors work there from old desktop to netbook

What I think is potentially really nice about table that’s unique is that it may be even easier from a user perspective with the right software. Ever been at a store that uses a tablet and Square for payment – it’s pretty awesome where you type in your email to get receipt and decide tip by touching buttons. Could be done on desktop but something quick/great about form factor

Jeffrey J Kontur

I love tablets and if great customer service were the only consideration, I agree with you that they would likely be the best solution. However, great customer service is NEVER the only consideration. In state government it usually comes in third behind:

a. Funding availability, and

b. (Usually federal) regulatory requirements.


Very interesting points here. I see tablet’s being used for communication and social support among industry professionals (such as land surveyors) to solve problems from the field and staying connected with the office. Great Topic!