Posted by: mikepearsonnz | September 4, 2009

Do public servants suffer iPhone envy?

iPhone envy

iPhone envy

Here’s an an interesting question for a Friday:  Should a New Zealand public servant ever use a taxpayer-funded iPhone?

I ask it, because recently I’ve had several conversations with senior government IT folk that have left me shaking my head.

Their view is unanimous, “the Chief Executive will never allow us to have iPhones, because of the perception issue“.

Let’s be clear, government departments do already buy expensive smartphones , such as  Blackberries.   The implication of that risk-adverse statement is that cool/fun devices will not be considered.

Here are some reasons, why as a taxpayer, I believe that iPhones need to be considered in the mix.

Enhancing Productivity with Applications

The iPhone, like any smartphone, comes standard with a number of useful applications.  :

  • Messaging – your staff can easily send SMS or emails.
  • Camera – your staff can take a photo or video.  The GPS location of the photo can be recorded.   They can share it immediately.
  • Internet tethering – the iPhone can be a 3G modem for a laptop or PC.

The iPhone is leading edge with some of its additional hardware, opening up future opportunities:

  • GPS – your staff can look at maps and get directions.  With a third-party app, they can publish their location for safety reasons.
  • Augmented reality – using the iPhone inclinometer, GPS and electronic compass to overlay information on the world.

In addition, you can buy third-party applications which increase productivity further.   These applications often integrate into other popular enterprise software packages.   The application cost per user is typically cheaper than a PC license.  The iPhone currently has a better application market than other smartphones.

Here are just two examples of productivity applications:

1.  Expenses app, $5

How many public servants collect pieces of paper, staple them to a form,  which is authorised by their manager, before going to accounts?

An iPhone user could submit an expense claim electronically, using the features of this app:

  • One-touch camera feature to photograph receipts for individual expenses.
  • Compatible with Google spreadsheet or Microsoft Excel to upload data.

2.   Mindmapping app, $11

How many meetings are documented in great detail, never to be read again?  Mind mapping tools are great for brainstorming and concept mapping.  This particular one has some extra features suitable for project planning (such as %complete).   The iPhone’s pinch/stretch interface allows interaction with large mind maps.

Enhancing Productivity with Multi-touch

If my taxpayer $$ are being spent on public servant smartphones, I want to make sure they are being used well.

Quite simply, the muti-finger touch interface of the iPhone is better than any smartphone before it.   The  intuitive interface makes it easy to use the device.   iPhone users access news and information significantly more than other smartphone owners.

Conclusion

I hope this has made a good case for why the iPhone should be considered as a smartphone contender, to increase productivity of public servants.

As a taxpayer, I care about maximising the productivity of public servants, and if it takes a cool phone to do that, then so be it.

In conclusion, I leave you with this quote from an email I received last week:

” I can’t believe that I ever thought the Blackberry was better than the iPhone – at least not for an individual user.”
— former Chief Executive of a government departmenet

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Responses

  1. Hi Mike,

    From ‘a technological’ and from ‘an end user’ point of view, these items are obviously the bee’s knees!

    from the point of view of keeping and retaining ‘full and accure’ records, as behoves us under the PRA 2005, it is a complete nightmare. Govt Depts are having enought headaches trying to ‘contain’ and ‘retain’ web-pages, and e-mails, never mind other ‘business activities’, which do form a ‘record of business’, which re being undertaken via mobile telecommunications networks, and other ‘immediate’ forms of communication, etc., which are presently unaccounted for, and also unaccountable for, because of the interface used.

    No-one – as far as I know – are capturing and recording such business activity. In fact, a few Govt dept’s are actually getting rid of such forms of communication tools, because they cannot account for (officially) and record (officially) the business activity which is being done via these forms of communication.

    Legally accounting for, and officially ‘recording the business undertaken’ via these ‘items of official issue for official business activity’, are also going to make people legally liable for business activities undertaken whilst using these items. But with no easily recorded, or intuitive means of recording these business records – as far as I can see.

    Please inform me if I am mistaken here – as I would love to know how to deal with these items for recordkeeping, and ‘legal recording’ purposes.

    Thanks, Mike!

    • Hi Wendy,

      If organisations are still having issues with e-mail and web pages then something is wrong. Both technologies have been signficant communication channels of government business for the last 15 years.

      The Public Records Act 2005 is not something special. Remember that US corporates have the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002, and still manage to adopt new technologies.

      Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

      There’s something wrong if blocking new technologies (that can increase efficiency and effectiveness), becomes normal behaviour.

      One of my rules of thumb in strategic design, is that “The number of communication channels increases, never decreases”. User-centered service delivery has to find ways to manage multiple channels, while maintaining its level of service and costs.

      I’m happy to provide help on how to successfully adopt new technologies whilst ensuring compliance. Hint – CONTACT Tab is at top of the page.

  2. It’s the security aspect not device prejudice or PRA fear that keeps the public sector on BlackBerrys. Iphones run a proprietary OS that GCSB won’t touch with a barge pole.

    MFAT invested a huge amount of time and money recently on mobile device project with no specific devices in mind. They went for HP units with Windows Mobile Device OS.

    Iphone is not the next logical choice beyond a Blackberry.

    • Hi Scott, thanks for your comment. Putting aside the “public servants can’t use cool technology” debate – I’ll put on my security hat.

      Yes, some Govt depts such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) need to securely handle classified information; their mobile devices are approved by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

      I don’t think proprietary OS is an issue – the RIM Blackberry is in the same category. Presumably the concern is whether the OS version has a current Common Criteria certification of a particular level?

      The barge pole comment is harsh – have GCSB actually evaluated the iPhone OS and provided feedback?

      Based on my experience, most people in government don’t handle highly classified material on a daily basis. IN-CONFIDENCE is the most common classified material. The corporate world values IN-CONFIDENCE information as much as government.

      If a new technology can deliver productivity gains, it is worth considering the cost-benefit of adapting business processes. It is possible to seperate “high-security” and “normal” information – allowing people to use the new technology for the majority of their work.

      All new technology goes through a period of maturing. My advice would be for organisations to evaluate the platform, and identify what new innovations are possible (a) now, with the existing security; (b) in the future, if these x,y,z security issues are addressed.

      I would also do a usability evaluation to see if senior staff are more productive with the better interface. (Or just accept the reports, that say its the case)

      For more on both sides of the debate, view http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=22433

  3. Hi Mike,

    It seems that a lot of management level public service employees are fairly technophobic, and view the idea of being asked to pilot an iPhone as akin to flying a commercial airliner. These are people with pretty low levels of IT literacy. How would the iPhone sit with these people?

    And how would it go with Windows everything like many Govt agencies have?

    cheers,

    Hamish

    • Hi Hamish, in a nutshell, the current state of smartphone technology is – if you want your senior people to be more productive, use an iPhone (http://tinyurl.com/l2592x) ; if you want maximum security, use a Blackberry (http://tinyurl.com/lnwk52). The wild card is Android – I haven’t seen much on that yet.

      From a system design point of view, (a) how do you architect your systems to use any mobile platform securely; (b) where could I apply each device, to achieve maximum productivity?

      My personal opinion is that smartphones are suited for browsing, communicating and simple content creation (e.g. email, SMS, twitter, IM, blog comment, photos, videos, data capture). They are not for spreadsheets, word processing. The strategic question is not so much about Windows, as making sure that document formats can be moved between the different tools easily.

  4. Yee Ha. But public service is not meant to be fun. The tide will have turned when I see an embossed buzzy bee on the cover of a NZ Passport!!! Ciao JB


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