The mobile government worker Excerpt from "Gov on the go"

To illustrate the benefits of mobile technology for government employees, we examine three types of field workers: human services caseworkers, emergency responders, and law enforcement officers.

There’s no question that many public officials recognize the benefits of mobile. A 2011 survey of state government CIOs by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) found that 58 percent of them consider mobile devices and apps either essential or a high priority for government. Public workers are even more gung-ho. As NASCIO puts it, “Even when mobile devices and apps are a priority, states struggle to keep up with state employee pressures to allow them to use personal mobile devices.”29 Workers recognize that mobile technology allows them to do their jobs better. As the Center for Digital Government writes,

A mobile employee can help save 0.9 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually

A mobile employee can help save 0.9 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually30

Far from being an expense, mobile equipment and telework is in many cases more than paying for itself by increasing the amount and quality of work employees can do in the field, reducing government task process time from weeks to days or hours, shortening response time to customers, cutting travel time, decreasing equipment expenses, and eliminating occupancy costs.31

To illustrate the benefits of mobile technology for government employees, we examine three different types of workers who spend much of their time in the field: human services caseworkers, emergency responders, and law enforcement officers. Five ways mobile can improve the productivity of government workers

  1. Reduce time spent on data entry
  2. Enable better situational awareness for frontline employees
  3. Enable work from any location
  4. Improve accuracy and reduce the effort involved in performing tasks
  5. Enhance collaboration and data sharing among employees/agencies

Health and human services (HHS) caseworkers

Freed to focus on what matters

Caseworkers perform critical tasks with tools that are often barely adequate. Some juggle as many as 80 clients each month. They spend most of their days making home or court visits, and some struggle to keep track of a multitude of intake forms, handwritten field notes, and client birth certificates and drivers’ licenses—all containing data they must enter manually into the system.

Mobile solutions can make their jobs simpler, allowing them to operate as truly mobile workers. With laptops or tablets, smartphones, GPS navigation, and wireless access to files, caseworkers can be far more productive in the field (figure 5). Florida has distributed camera-enabled smartphones and laptops to more than 2,300 foster-care caseworkers. They can use them to remotely capture time- and location-stamped images and immediately upload them to the state’s online database and to enter notes and observations directly, reducing time spent on paperwork and helping them better manage their workloads.32 The adoption of mobile case management tools in Florida’s Miami-Dade County led to a 30 percent increase in home visits, timelier reporting, and better compliance with state requirements.33 In a similar vein, nearly 2,000 Swedish homecare workers use smartphones to document the status of more than 30,000 elderly patients in Stockholm. With the instantaneous digitization of case information, Stockholm’s city government can more easily offer services to its elderly citizens, improving service delivery as well as efficiency.34

In developing nations, simple text apps can save lives. 

Bloodbank SMS. This mobile app allows medical workers at Kenyan district hospitals to provide information about their remaining blood supplies directly to their centralized blood bank. They simply text a free message to the service citing the amounts of each blood type remaining. If blood levels at a local hospital drop below a critical threshold, the system automatically sends SMS alerts to the central blood bank, keeping it updated about where blood is needed most.35

Mobile Demographic Surveillance System. Kenya’s medical field workers also can conduct surveys via mobile phone and remotely transmit the data back to the hospital’s database. Shifting the system from paper-based surveys to mobile phones allows field workers to avoid the time-consuming and potentially error-prone process of data transcription.36

Figure 5 - The mobile caseworkerEmergency responders

Enhancing situational awareness, speeding inspections

Firefighters must be fast and agile in the field. California’s Novato Fire Department District uses tablets to provide real-time data to incident commanders. Mobile applications related to mapping, hazardous materials, weather, wilderness firefighting, and satellite imagery all enhance firefighters’ situational awareness, leading to better decisions when lives are at stake.37 Inspections are a vital component of a firefighter’s job and a critical factor in fire prevention. Before the use of mobile technology, fire inspectors would take paper notes during inspections and later enter them manually into a database.

Since the implementation of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, federal agencies have become conscious of the substantial benefits associated with mobile-enabled telework.

“It was a time-consuming and costly process, because reports could go back and forth several times for a simple spelling or data error, and every revision meant another piece of paper,” says Glenn Wallace, a platoon chief in the fire department in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “Re-inspections that should have taken place within 30 days of the original inspections were taking up to 70 days because of the back-and-forth paper shuffling.” By reengineering the time-consuming review process through the use of tablet PCs, the department has saved 300 hours a year on administration, improved inspection turnaround times, and boosted inspection volume by 50 percent. This in turn has cut the number of chimney fires.38

Law enforcement officers

More aware, more effective, more in control

Mobile technology also helps law enforcement officers improve their productivity in the field. Officers can use mobile devices to access the federal Criminal Justice Information System; update incident reports in real time; view images of missing children and suspect fingerprints or photos; run drivers’ license checks; access case records, incident reports, and call histories during field investigations; stream video traffic from dashboard-mounted cameras; and issue e-tickets, among many other tasks. Mobile access to critical data can save officers’ time—and their lives—by improving situational awareness and helping them more easily identify potentially dangerous suspects. By viewing police records on their mobile devices, they can match a suspect to his or her picture and view information on prior offenses.

During the February 2010 snowstorms, when most of the federal government was essentially shut down, an estimated 35 percent of federal employees worked from home.

Mobile data access for effective response. In Australia, the City of Sydney’s Rangers use iPads to fight disabled parking fraud. While making on-street checks, they can access the state government database of the Australian Disability Parking Scheme to identify vehicles using cards that have been lost, stolen, destroyed, or revoked.39 In Baltimore, mobile data access saves each officer an estimated 30 minutes per day by eliminating the time needed to obtain information from a dispatcher.40 Assuming that half of the 636,410 law enforcement officers in the United States lack mobile data access, adopting this technology could help them save more than 50 million hours, equivalent to $1.3 billion annually.41 Faster decision-making. Mobile surveillance applications allow officers to access live camera feeds on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, police use mobile devices to view live images and remotely control cameras mounted on mobile surveillance units. These can be deployed to time-sensitive, critical situations such as negotiations with hostage-takers or other SWAT emergencies. The system allows experienced officers to stay on top of events and provide appropriate guidance instantly, regardless of their location.42 Contrast these new abilities with the burden faced by officers who still must write out paper tickets, take handwritten notes, and spend hours in the office on paperwork instead of patrolling the streets. The contrast highlights an endemic problem: the technology gap among different governments. Disparities in the adoption of new technologies among agencies, states, and municipalities can limit their overall ability to achieve public sector productivity gains.

A large federal agency used a forecasting tool to assess the impact of having approximately half of its 2,800 staff work remotely an average of four work days per pay period. Simply harnessing that level of mobile work could enable them to grow the organization at zero impact to footprint thanks to better facility utilization. An added benefit: eliminating more than 1,000 tons of carbon from reduced commuting.

Read the full Gov on the go report.