Govt should go mobile

10 Dec 2004

There is a strong public demand to be able to interact with the Government via mobile phone for key information services, a survey commissioned by Púca Technologies has revealed.

Púca said that most e-government initiatives revolve around providing access to public services by using a computer. However, according to the research conducted by Amarach Consulting, only 42pc of the population has personal access to the internet, whereas more than 80pc own a mobile phone. The Dublin company says that m-government will be a key growth area for mobile services providers in 2005.

Based on a sample of Ireland’s population, the research found that 48pc of people would be interested in text messaging services from the NCT, the Central Applications Office, hospitals and similar text message reminders about public sector services.

The same number would be interested in being able to request information by sending a text message to health services, the Revenue Commissioners and similar public services. Around 40pc would be interested in being able to vote by text on various public interest issues.

A significantly higher number (34pc) agreed that they would find it easier to send a text message than sending an email or visiting a website in order to access public service information. Within the 15-24-year-old age group the figure was a high of 61pc.

Very significant differences were found between the attitudes of different age groups. Perhaps the most important of these being that, of those within the 25-34 age group, 55pc of these would be interested in being able to vote by text on various public interest issues. This may be compared with 35pc in the 35-49 age bracket, 29pc in the 50-64 age bracket, 9pc in the 65-74 bracket and 41pc in the 15-24 bracket. The last figure may reflect a relative lack of interest in politics in this group.

Eamon Hession, managing director of Púca, commented: “If the aims and ideals of e-government are to make government and public services more accessible to citizens, then it stands to reason that more attention should be given to ‘m-government’ initiatives as these would make accessing public services and government easier, faster and more available to a wider population.”

The report highlights that for many people – indeed a significant majority within particular age groups – sending a text message is much more convenient than using a computer. “We don’t suggest that e-government initiatives are ditched in favour of m-government. We recommend that more attention be given to the integration of a mobile interface to complement other access channels. As people have phones anyway, there is no additional public cost for engaging through the mobile channel, compared to the cost of buying computers and internet connectivity,” said Hession.

The report illustrates a high degree of interest – particularly in the 25-34-year-old age group where it stands at 55pc – in being able to vote by text message about a range of public interest issues. Despite the controversy over electronic voting, many people still regard electronic media – especially text messaging – as a valid medium for expressing their views and opinions.

Whilst there would undoubtedly be issues surrounding validation and security to overcome, the potential benefits of providing a more convenient and inclusive method of voting through mobile phones cannot be ignored, says Hession. Text voting may also have potential to involve younger people in the political process – for example, in the 2002 election only 41.5pc of 18-19 year olds and only 43.4pc of 20-24 year olds voted, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Hession believes that there is a real opportunity for Ireland to become a global centre of excellence for m-government and that all of the ingredients are there for Ireland to seize the opportunity. “Ireland is one of the most advanced countries in the world in mobile messaging and data services. We have a very healthy locally based mobile applications and services industry comprised of indigenous Irish owned companies – many of whom are doing extremely well not just in Ireland but internationally.

“But it must act quickly. Already countries such as Malta and The Philippines have created important m-government initiatives. Ireland must leapfrog these countries and rapidly put in place an extensive range of m-government initiatives,” Hession concluded.

By John Kennedy