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Mena governments must focus on mobile apps

Smartphone

Creating adequate apps for engagement and communication with citizens can prove beneficial, study reveals.

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December 18, 2013 9:43 by



With internet and social media penetration levels continuously rising in the Mena region, new technologies have changed the way residents interact and exchange information.

Government bodies in the region need to take advantage of the increasingly high smartphone penetration and use effective applications to connect and communicate with citizens, according to a new study by management consulting firm, Booz & Company.

The study – titled Winning the Mobile Government Game: Mechanisms for Better Customer Engagement – argues that the effective use of mobile apps can rapidly increase engagement and communication between governments and citizens, empowering the latter, and creating stronger and happier societies.

The study notes that while many companies in the private sector have become heavily reliant on mobile apps to interact with their audiences, not all governments have embraced the opportunity. It adds that while several e-government portals have been launched over the past few years, they contain too much information and, therefore, are “labyrinthine and impractical on smartphones”.

“Failing to take advantage of new technologies can leave populations disaffected and disengaged, with a belief that their government does not speak with them in meaningful ways or understands their needs,” the study reveals.

Ramez Shehadi, partner at Booz & Company, says mobile apps, which are “always on”, highly personal and have intuitive interfaces that require no explanation or instructions and offer several advantages, including the ability to access information even when users are offline.

“Most importantly, apps are typically limited in scope and designed to meet a set of precise needs, making them uniquely fit for purpose and highly appealing to users,” adds Shehadi.

The study also notes that apps have the potential to generate financial benefits for governments – by delivering services in a more cost-effective manner and by letting governments reduce costly channels and less popular ones. By encouraging citizens to pay their bills on time, mobile e-government apps can also lead to improved revenue collection.

Booz & Company also recommends that policymakers should design e-government apps that are engaging and user-friendly to avoid deploying a large number of problematic apps that could be counterproductive and may discourage the uptake of future technologies.

Dr Raymond Khoury, partner at Booz & Company, argues that the perks are not restricted to governments, but apps benefit citizens as well – namely more transparency and greater satisfaction with government services.

He says: “For society at large, a push to build a digital ecosystem can increase a region’s technological prowess and create jobs in the field of digital technologies.”

UAE

According to a recent study by Google, the UAE tops leads the world in terms of smartphone penetration at 73.8, followed closely by Saudi Arabia. Other neighbouring countries are also witnessing a steady rise in the use of smart devices.

In the study, Booz & Company commends a recent move by the UAE government, which has “recognised the shift and sought to get ahead of it”. In a recent speech, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said that he wants all government services to be offered through mobile apps and accessible around the clock by 2015, adding that UAE officials who fail to meet this goal could face dismissal.

In October, His Highness announced the launch of a new scheme to transform Dubai into a ‘smart city’, a move that promises to ensure that government services are accessible, quick and efficient through the use of smart devices.

His Highness says: “We aim to harness technology so as to better living conditions and [bring in a] new form of development.”

Rabih Dabboussi, managing director at Cisco UAE, says that Dubai’s ‘smart city’ strategy is a journey and not a destination. “The key challenges digital Dubai faces are siloed applications with no common interworking layer, closed data sets and sensor portfolio,” he concludes.



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