Government’s recent announcement that owners of fibre optic networks – including itself – would be compelled to share capacity with other Internet service providers shows the high expectations it has of the digital world. 

Broadband access is linked to economic activity and thus job creation according to the World Bank. It’s also increasingly important within the context of service delivery, with the potential to reduce costs while enhancing access.

“For increasing numbers of South Africans, mobile devices are the sole entry point to the Internet. Consequently, e-government really means mobile government, or m-government,” says Johnny Moloto, executive: Government and Regulatory Affairs, IBM South Africa. “Mobile devices constitute a universal communications platform that government is already moving to leverage.”

For example progressive city administrations are using free WiFi hotspots to fast track citizens’ access to broadband.
However, argues Moloto, m-government poses certain challenges, particularly in the light of heightened citizen expectations. M-government will need to offer the same levels of convenience and experience as mobile apps do.

“On the plus side, this ‘app approach’ allows government agencies to connect directly with citizens – and to treat them as customers,” Moloto adds. “To get this right, I believe government should consider how to balance a clear and coherent vision for m-government with the imperative to act quickly. The rollout of intelligently-designed, easy-to-implement apps that meet real needs should take priority. Home Affairs is doing it brilliantly by using SMSs to alert citizens of the progress of ID or passport applications – and the citizen feels the system is actually working for him or her.

These quick wins can turn around public perception by individualising service delivery, Moloto believes. Arguably, the same approach could even help ameliorate the massively negative fallout from load shedding into a positive demonstration that the situation is under control, and that government cares.

The overall citizen experience is critical. Apps need to form part of a coherent whole, and should be easy to use. For example, multiple log-ins and prompts to access services from one’s metro can create frustration rather than delight.
When it comes to strategy and implementation, the focus should be on three priorities: securing each transaction; ensuring that the right processes and infrastructure are in place to deliver high-quality apps rapidly; and using good analytics to drive continuous improvement.

“Security is probably paramount given that these transactions can involve sensitive information: trust really is the currency of the online world,” Moloto says.

Focusing on quick wins – but without losing sight of the bigger picture – helps government to take its services directly to citizens, the unique advantage of mobile technology. This can reduce pressure on traditional service-delivery channels, but the real benefit is surely to begin redefining its relationship with citizens.