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Commentary: Mobile Tech Could Sharply Boost Feds’ Productivity

Over the past 25 years, private sector productivity in America has risen by more than 50 percent according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Government, unfortunately, cannot make the same claim. While the BLS stopped tracking general public sector productivity in 1995, comparing private sector productivity to even the most commercially-oriented government enterprises reveals a large and growing gap in productivity as depicted in the table below.

So what explains this disparity? Technology.

The private sector generally absorbs technological improvements and captures and capitalizes on the associated productivity benefits more effectively than government. Mobile technology presents government with an opportunity to hit the reset button and seize the productivity benefits that have eluded it in the past. Mobile devices enable employees to work from any location at any time and remain productive.

Although the public sector is often a late adopter of new technologies, its entry into the mobile world is picking up speed. Many public agencies have started using tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices to help improve employee performance, provide more useful services to citizens, and engage citizens as partners in transforming service delivery.  The productivity benefits of these kinds of mobile-enabled improvements are huge. For instance, if mobile-generated productivity reduced new federal government hires by even 10,000 over a decade, the corresponding lifetime salary and pension savings could exceed $25 billion. Here are a few ways technology can help produce such savings.

The Mobile Government worker

Mobile technologies enable work at any time, from any location. Armed with a notebook or tablet computer for example, health and human services caseworkers no longer need to scribble handwritten notes in the field and then return to the office to enter them into the database -- a cumbersome and potentially error prone process. Instead, workers can input observations directly into mobile devices, even adding photos, and upload it immediately to the agency’s system. This leaves them more time and energy to focus on what really matters -- their clients. Greater mobile adoption by caseworkers could free up 57 million additional hours of services to the community annually.

Police, firefighters and other public safety workers use mobile tools to gain speed, flexibility and situational awareness while responding to incidents. With critical information available at their fingertips, they can make faster, more informed decisions and better protect citizens. Studies show that mobile data access can help police officers save 30 minutes every day. Assuming that half of the 636,410 officers in America lack access to this technology, adopting it could save them more than 50 million hours, or $1.3 billion.

Citizen Services 2.0

The proliferation of mobile technology makes it a popular and effective means for government to deliver services to citizens. Not only is it convenient for citizens, it can help them save time and money.

Take San Francisco’s SFpark program. Using sensors installed at 7,000 metered parking spaces and 12,250 spaces in city-owned garages, this system maintains a real-time database of available parking spots. Drivers view the inventory on color-coded maps on their phones or tablets, saving time and gas. Given that Americans collectively spend 18.7 billion hours looking for parking spots every year, mobile parking apps could help save heaps of drivers’ time -- worth about $391 billion to the economy.

With the tap of a screen or click of a button, citizens now can access vital information, from tax-filing instructions to location-based public safety announcements. They can report civic problems like graffiti and potholes. They can even report monthly wages to claim Social Security benefits. Mobile technology holds great potential to improve citizens’ experiences and boost collaboration with the public.

Co-creation and Co-production

Because they’re ubiquitous and easy to use, mobile devices make ideal platforms for engaging citizens as partners in service delivery. Whether by collaborating with government to design new public services, or providing the resources or data that make those services possible, citizens are helping agencies deliver greater value.

The City of New York, for instance, held a competition to solicit ideas for mobile apps to improve transportation in the city. One of the winners, Roadify, combined data from the city’s transit agency with comments from Twitter and other sources to build a holistic picture of commuting conditions in real time. Mobile apps enable citizens to tackle problems that were once considered solely the government’s concern. In San Jose California, the Pulse Point mobile app, through sophisticated location-based services, alerts CPR-trained citizens of nearby emergencies who can respond until paramedics arrive. With the help of technology and citizen rescuers, governments can deliver effective emergency response without devoting significant new resources.  

Mobile technology is a game-changer for governments. It allows them not just to redesign how they function internally, but also to redesign how they relate to citizens and the world around them.

Figure 1: US productivity output: Private sector vs. public sector enterprises

Source: Deloitte Research Analysis

William D. Eggers leads Deloitte’s public sector research. He is the author of seven books including the Washington Post bestseller “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government,” (Harvard Business School Press, 2009) “Government 2.0” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,2007) and “Governing by Network” (Brookings Institution Press) . This article is adapted from his new Deloitte Research study with Joshua Jaffe, “Gov on the Go: Boosting Public Sector Productivity by Going Mobile.”

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