Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices, social media and mobile apps are increasingly being used by government agencies in Singapore to engage the public.
But can the two replace the ubiquitous Singpass-powered Web portals? Not likely, said Frank Levering, research manager, IDC Government Insights. He described the impact of social media and mobile apps on Singapore e-government efforts.
Are social media tools and mobile apps the new form of e-government?
No, social media and mobile applications are a very welcome addition to e-government. Just like the fallback scenario of physical locations for online processes needs to co-exist for a long time, these new tools will not replace the existing scenarios. Citizens benefit significantly though, as they get more options to address their needs. Some savvy users will come to rely very heavily on these new technologies while others won't even have access to them for a long time to come.
Do you see the Web portals being replaced by the tools and apps?
Singpass-password enabled websites solve the challenge of identifying an individual citizen. This challenge needs to be addressed for new technologies as well. It is highly likely that the Singpass solution will evolve to facilitate citizen identification for these new media and apps. There will be more anonymous or semi-anonymous contributions from citizens to discussions with the government through these tools, but the task fulfilled by these portals remains unchanged.
There will be some overlap in capabilities of these portals and mobile apps and they can peacefully co-exist. Each solution will follow its own path to contribute to a smart and mature government for now. HTML 5 is showing an early trend of converging Web pages and applications, which is potentially the technology that will bring the current portals and standalone applications together as one solution. If the government achieves an optimal implementation, it shouldn't matter at all which device or technology a citizen chooses to use. The process would be available to facilitate the selected method and all methods lead the citizen to the same result.
What are the challenges for government CIOs who need to architect social media efforts for safe and secure use?
Social media are still relatively new and there are very few best practices available to show governments how to get the most out of social media in a safe and secure fashion. In fact, the developments and learnings are still coming in at such a high pace that previous best practices might not be applicable anymore. Citizens might be satisfied initially with any attempt to embrace new media, but that sentiment turns to scrutiny very rapidly. In order to get the most out of social media in a secure fashion, there will be social environments solely created to interact between government departments.
Separately, there should be a strategy for a (cautious) presence accessible to citizens where the learning curve can start, but also where damage control is relatively easy. I'd say the main challenge is to create an environment that is highly stimulative for dialogue and collaboration while avoiding undesirable consequences of that dialogue. Communicating via social media isn't always rich in context and misinterpretations or poor phrasing can go viral among citizens at a fast pace to a large audience.
McDonald's recently found out the hard way that it is very easy to become a worst practice. They created a Twitter hashtag to share McDonald's stories, intended to positively highlight the stories of its suppliers that contribute to their experience. They attracted the attention of animal rights activists and a wide variety of consumers sharing their worst experience. Within two hours, they withdrew the hashtag as a damage control measure, but not before they became the worst practice example very publicly.
On the bright side, they responded relatively fast to an uncontrollable tweetjacking situation. From a government CIO perspective though, if McDonald's was a government agency, there would have been a lot more negative impact and perhaps permanent damage to the evolution in citizen-government collaboration.