Tuesday, November 20, 2007

World Bank m-Government Forum

m-Government and e-Government are related terms.
  • e-Government involves the creation of interfaces between government and its constituencies (citizens, businesses, civil society organizations, etc.) on the World Wide Web, allowing information to be transferred and/or transactions completed via the Internet.
  • m-Government involves the creation of interfaces between government and its constituencies utilizing telephones, and especially mobile phones. The mobile phones are increasingly equipped with capabilities beyond those of the land-line phone, especially in developing countries.
According to the ITU, the total number of mobile users worldwide as of late 2006 was about 2.7 billion and the number of internet users was just above 1.1 billion. An estimated 700 million mobile phones are manufactured each year, and it is estimated that there may soon be more mobile phones in the world than people.

Source: TylerFoister via YouTube.

The World Bank will hold an online forum on m-Government on November 29th from 8:30 - 11:00 am (east coast US time). They have invited comments on the following questions!

Q: Does the penetration of mobile phones provide a strong case for leveraging the mobile channel to dramatically improve access to public services to those who can afford to use a personal or shared mobile phone (e.g. as in Village Phone programs)?

Q: Of course it does!

Q: Does this create an opportunity to connect in the near future the next two billion people to the benefits of e-government, e-health, e-education, e-banking and e-commerce?

A: Of course it does!

Q: How exactly can Mobile Government transform the lives of common people in developing countries? What are best examples of such impact? What are the types of services which can be easily provided on mobile phones/devices ("quick wins") and what the more strategic high-impact services ("killer applications")?

A: To paraphrase Fermat, I might be able to answer this question, but I don't have time nor space to do so here.

Clearly the answer depends on the country and its government. Effective call centers responding to calls from mobile phones can provide information from government, obtain information for government, and eventually conduct transactions, allowing people, businesses, civil society organizations to interact more effectively and efficiently with government. Ineffective call centers may overwhelm government officials with calls to which they can not respond, making it even more difficult, expensive and frustrating for people to contact their government. Malevolent governments will use mobile phones in ways to extend their coercive control of their citizens.

I suspect the first really important applications of mobile phones in government will be to enhance government to government communications. There is a lot that can be done to improve logistics, training, and other functions using the technology.

Q: What are the key constraints to making this vision a reality? What are the critical success factors and lessons learned?

A: I think the major constraint to using mobile phone technology well will be the will to do so. Where there is a will, ways will be found in spite of the lack of human resources with critical skills, the needs to reengineer government organizations and to restructure institutions, and the cost of doing all these things.

The question might also be asked as to how one can constrain governments from misusing the mobile technology, and how citizens can protect themselves from such misuses.

QQ Should the government agencies and the development community take this opportunity to drastically improve access to information and services much more seriously? How should governments and donors change the way they do business to take full advantage of mobile technologies?

A: I have not really studied the way m-government is being implemented in a serious or comprehensive way. My guess is that governments don't recognize the potential in the technology, and really don't want to empower citizens in the way possible with mobile phones. Many government functionaries are not really interested in providing good services efficiently, and will see m-Government as a threat to their comfort.

Q: What is the role of the private sector? Are there successful business models (e.g. PPP) for private sector companies to support value-added m-government services?

A: Of course there is a role for the private sector, and for public-private partnerships. I suspect the main role for the private sector is selling infrastructure hardware and software and services to governments.

An important interface for m-Government is between the public and private sectors. Businesses have a lot of interaction with government in the course of doing all business, and businesses will have to reengineer their processes in ways complementary to government's reengineering to "match impedence" at the interface.

No comments: