President Obama had to do something. This mobile onslaught is not going away and his government needs to start embracing the power of this medium – hopefully to harness it for a little good. So President Obama decreed that, within the next 12 months, each government department will “make at least 2 services, used by the public, available on mobile devices.”
A bold move. A broad statement. A validation of our industry.
The government is like bad code
Sometimes I look at the inner workings of government and shudder. It seems as though, to a tech-minded complete outsider, that the government is built on bad code. We all know bad code, either in its essence – poorly constructed logic, old and irrelevant and orphaned procedures from a time before God – or in its effects – sluggish performance, visual glitches, crashing. That kind of bad code. The outside viewpoint is that nothing gets done in a bureaucracy except for filing paperwork – an overall impression that government is a tar pit comprised of the bones of all those that have tried to work to improve it.
Enter mobile. Mobile is a fix for the ills of process – if done right. Mobile is a simplifier, forcing the question “what should people be able to do with this app/service?” It can create a protective layer on top of that bad code, putting the user in front of the right answer. Giving them (us) control. The fact that President Obama has also made open data a part of this initiative is an incredible opportunity for the government and developers alike – something other countries (including my own Canadian government) should be looking at.
The mobile New Deal
Have you ever been to the top of Whiteface mountain? A five mile drive up Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, a quick walk through a tunnel in the mountain, and up 27 stories in an elevator built right into the mountain and you are there. 4800+ feet overlooking the Adirondack Mountains. Stunning. It is widely speculated that this project was part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” aimed at bringing the US out of the Great Depression. It was funded almost entirely by the state of New York, putting New Yorkers back to work.
I’m not saying we are suffering through a depression today, but our economy is certainly not thriving, is it? Why doesn’t President Obama and his digital posse start funding entrepreneurs to take the open data and move the US government into mobile? It makes better sense to allow mobile experts in to make hay of the services that citizens would want on their mobile devices. I would have more faith that this would get executed properly and, more importantly, that the services provided would be relevant to the population, not beholden to a government mandate.
Right idea, wrong executive orders
Pushing a mandate of 2 services mobilized in 12 months demonstrates the power and ubiquity of mobile, but it is not the right approach for a government serious about mobile public services. President Obama needs to set a vision with scope and parameters or his mobile New Deal will produce more of the same: more bureaucracy, more red tape, more exclusionary processes and more frustration. Forcing departments to simply get 2 mobile solutions live is not the same as enabling the population to interact with the government through their mobile devices.
This is an important decision from President Obama – and a necessary one. Mobile can lift economies, educate nations and streamline governments but doing so requires strong leadership and a very clear and unwavering strategy.