Victoria is emerging as a hub for mobile-government, as the State’s government departments release a variety of smartphone apps and mobile-friendly websites that will cement its position as the nation’s leader in Gov 2.0.
In the lead up to the election, the Electoral Commission released the Vote Victoria app, which uses GPS technology to direct users to their nearest polling booth. VicRoads boasts the SmartPark app which reminds city drivers about clearway times and notifies them when their meter is due to expire. It has also developed Live Drive with real time updates on traffic conditions. And the State Revenue Office has just launched an application targeted at first home buyers with which they can calculate the amount of government assistance they are eligible for to help them with their purchase.
Dale Bowerman, Strategic Account Manager with Gov 2.0 strategists Collabforge, attributes Victoria’s momentum in this space to a series of policies which have opened the way for collaboration and innovation.
“The Gov 2.0 Action Plan and VPS Innovation Strategy have really set the tone for expectations around the Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0 space. In particular the Gov 2.0 Action plan, which is signed by the secretaries of all of the major departments, has given the green light to go forth and engage in the public space,” he says.
The company’s director, Mark Elliot, traces it back to the Future Melbourne plan (which Collabforge helped develop), an interactive wiki designed to cooperatively develop a ten year vision for the city.
Over the past 12 months, Collabforgehave been working with the Victorian Department of Justice, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Whispirplatform to develop the FireReady app for the iPhone.
The app uses an RSS feed to deliver fire-danger warnings to users, adapting to their location as determined through the phone’s GPS system. They can also use the FireReadychecklist to determine their level of bushfire preparedness, and email the results to friends and family.
The app is being promoted in the lead-up to the Summer fire season, and is nearing 10,000 downloads, putting it in the top 15 news and information apps on iTunes.
This is good news for the CFA, who stand to benefit from the reputational dividends that these sorts of innovative initiatives can deliver to an agency.
“What reputation gains tend to result in is essentially increased funding,” explains Bowerman.
However, he also notes that agencies often underestimate what is involved in the development of a phone app.
“From our perspective, the question of the costs involved in developing a mobile application is one that we are constantly finding is underestimated.
“Typically there are a variety of considerations that clients sometimes forget are necessary. Things like discovery, scoping, stakeholder engagement and development of a project design all typically need to commence well before any development takes place,” he says.
Some Victorian agencies have sidestepped these resourcing issues by undertaking the entire process in-house.
But while the State Revenue Office was able to produce its First Home Buyer’s by drawing on the skills of its own internal IT team, Mark Elliott believes the majority of these projects are done externally and that is likely to remain the situation for the foreseeable future.
“The market in this context is just so fast moving and diverse that I think that it would be quite challenging for agencies to really effectively internalise these resources for quite some time,” he says.
Bowerman agrees, saying that many agencies are unsure what skills be relevant in the years to come.
“I think that because we are seeing so much change and flux in this industry at the moment, there are a lot of players who are being displaced. Things like Blackberry for example aren’t as strong as they used to be, and we are seeing the counter rise of iOS and Android increasing. I think that a lot of agencies are sitting back and waiting to see whether things are going to settle down a bit in terms of who the big players are so they are able to make informed decisions.”
There are also signs that other jurisdictions are becoming active in the mobile government space.
At the end of November the Federal Department of Health and Ageing (DHA) announced they had developed a prototype iPhone app designed for accessing electronic patient health records.
On the same day in NSW, the Transport Minister, John Robertson, launched a trial SMS service which will deliver real time information on Metrobus arrival times in Sydney, using the PTIPS infrastructure.
This may well prove to be a precursor to a more comprehensive real time transport app. NSW released a tender inviting expressions of interest in the development of such an app in May last year.