We’re well into the New Year, and state and local governments are continuing to find ways to do more with fewer resources, and they are looking to technology to improve efficiency in the delivery of services. What does the rest of the year look like for our state and local governments and how their employees do their jobs?  Are we better off or in a different place than we were a year ago?  Are budget situations better?  Is the technology more affordable?

In my last post, “Bring Your Own Everything – Citizen Services, NFC, and Big Data,” we looked at how mobile technology is presenting new opportunities and challenges in the public sector. The overwhelming need for the functionality and capacity of smartphones by consumers and employees is re-shaping how citizens interact with government agencies and institutions.  And the reliance on these devices is growing.

Gartner estimated back in November that smart devices will account for 70 percent of total devices sold in 2012. The proliferation of these devices is powering an explosion of mobile applications for citizen services.  For example, the City of Boston practically pioneered the field with Citizens Connect, and now many states have natural resources or parks and recreation applications such as the State of Michigan’s Camping and Recreation Locator, the State of Georgia’s State Parks Guide, and San Diego County’s SDEmergency App.

Two additional technologies are emerging as enablers of public sector mobility – Video to the Field and Integrated Communications (IC). For these two, I want to make a plea on behalf of the public servant (of which, I’m a former and, undoubtedly, future member). While some trends and technological advances have come in fits and starts, never quite gathering the necessary momentum to coalesce into something useful, both of these technologies have a huge pent-up demand.

Video to the Field

Content hungry technology might be another way to classify this trend.  You’ll see a lot more bloggers and experts describe the larger phenomenon this way, but I’m going to call a spade a spade.  The technology is here; the roads have been built and are continuously upgraded; now we need the cars, or in this case, the content, to take advantage of those wide open roads.   With LTE and smart devices as the new information highway, we need the Ferrari of content:  Video.  For state and local governments, this content could be anything from training videos for field employees, like case workers, or a video that helps a park ranger identify a certain wildlife species with warnings on how to handle them in different circumstances.  It might be even as simple as video conferencing in the field or live video feed when law enforcement officers find themselves in a dangerous situation and HQ needs real-time intelligence.  Another way to think of this trend is as a continuation of pushing the business of government out to the field.  Let’s take it to the next level.

I would call out the superstar in this field, from my experience, as LIA, which stands for Liberated Intelligence & Analysis.  While their business focus is mostly on increasing the linkage between traditional sales and marketing channels in a business environment, the benefit to the public sector is obvious.  It’s never more important to control the message and outflow of information than in the public sector.  Imagine an application that runs on a mobile device that gives your field personnel all the flexibility of the agency’s message, all the forms on hand, the regulations and procedures, and even video to the field, but without the hassle of worrying about version control. Or worse yet, the fear of leaving behind outdated or inaccurate information, or having a field agent act outside the bounds of their duty.  LIA is a great example of where pushing the right content, especially video, right out to the field, can take us in the future.

From a video capture perspective, the topic has been a discussion in the public safety community for years.  After all, the video cameras in police cars are standard operating procedure today, why not officer cam?  Again, the information super highway is ready and the cloud has made possible solutions like TASER’s police cam that allow a remote viewer to see what the officer sees.  While the stated purpose is accountability and reducing accusations of police brutality, imagine being able to live stream that feed in an emergency situation.  Imagine firefighters equipped with the same equipment in a blaze or search and rescue scenario.  Imagine tagging and cataloging that video, immediately storing it in a secure place and making it available to the justice system as evidence with a clear, digital and limited chain of custody.

Nothing is more powerful than video and indeed, video is the Ferrari of the information super highway.  That’s why traffic on YouTube tripled in 2011 and 3 hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube from mobile devices alone.

Integrated Communications

With the mobilizing of the workforce a continuing and prominent trend, integrated communications that is person-centric and not office-centric is critical.  Being an employee located primarily in the field means that any given day is already hectic, with very little routine, requiring you to be flexible and stoic in your professional objectives. The last thing you need is to spend hours on end fighting the clunky technology that’s supposed to make it easy to check your office voicemail from your cellphone or have your office calls automatically forwarded on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I’m looking forward to the day when that technological wonder is easy, flexible and self-serviceable-when the notion that you must be physically present in an office to get work done is considered passé.

Where will we focus going forward?

I wish I had the answer on this one.  I really do.  What I can tell you is that as I sit here writing this, I have an office phone, two cell phones and a Google Voice plugin client on my email to make calls.  Not only that, I have three email addresses and as many voicemail boxes somewhere in the ether.  All of this ties right back into the Bring Your Own Everything trend as it drives the proliferation of communication and leaves the individual struggling to juggle those various demands for attention.

These are my predictions, but I’m more interested in hearing from you.  What is it you need as public sector employees to do your jobs better?  How do you see technology changing the business of government?  What about paper reduction?  Do you see technology as a sunk cost or an investment for long term growth?