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John Daly, Director, Americans for UNESCO

By The e-Development Thematic Group of The World Bank and The Society for Promotion of e-Governance

As part of our special coverage on mobile government, we highlight the views of John Daly on how he perceives mobile government could transform the lives of people in developing countries .

This interview was conducted as a part of the global dialogue organized jointly by The Society for Promotion of e-Governance, India and World Bank's e-Development Thematic Group as part of the joint special coverage on Mobile Government in conjunction with the Global Dialogue videoconference organized The Society for Promotion of e-Governancer and other partners on Nov.29, 2007.

Q: How exactly can Mobile Government transform the lives of common people in developing countries? What are best examples of such impact? What are the types of services which can be easily provided on mobile phones/devices ("quick wins") and what the more strategic high-impact services ("killer applications")?

A: Clearly the answer depends on the country and its government. Effective call centers responding to calls from mobile phones can provide information from government, obtain information for government, and eventually conduct transactions, allowing people, businesses, civil society organizations to interact more effectively and efficiently with government. Ineffective call centers may overwhelm government officials with calls to which they can not respond, making it even more difficult, expensive and frustrating for people to contact their government. Malevolent governments will use mobile phones in ways to extend their coercive control of their citizens.

I suspect the first really important applications of mobile phones in government will be to enhance government to government communications. There is a lot that can be done to improve logistics, training, and other functions using the technology.

Q: What are the key constraints to making this vision a reality? What are the critical success factors and lessons learned?

A: I think the major constraint to using mobile phone technology well will be the will to do so. Where there is a will, ways will be found in spite of the lack of human resources with critical skills, the needs to reengineer government organizations and to restructure institutions, and the cost of doing all these things.

The question might also be asked as to how one can constrain governments from misusing the mobile technology, and how citizens can protect themselves from such misuses.

Q Should the government agencies and the development community take this opportunity to drastically improve access to information and services much more seriously? How should governments and donors change the way they do business to take full advantage of mobile technologies?

A: I have not really studied the way m-government is being implemented in a serious or comprehensive way. My guess is that governments don't recognize the potential in the technology, and really don't want to empower citizens in the way possible with mobile phones. Many government functionaries are not really interested in providing good services efficiently, and will see m-Government as a threat to their comfort.

Q: What is the role of the private sector? Are there successful business models (e.g. PPP) for private sector companies to support value-added m-government services?

A: Of course there is a role for the private sector, and for public-private partnerships. I suspect the main role for the private sector is selling infrastructure hardware and software and services to governments.

An important interface for m-Government is between the public and private sectors. Businesses have a lot of interaction with government in the course of doing all business, and businesses will have to reengineer their processes in ways complementary to government's reengineering to "match impedence" at the interface.

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