Winning the mobile government game: Mechanisms for better customer engagement
Mobile e-government applications can help governments deliver e-services more efficiently than kiosks or web portals. Successful apps will be well-designed and focused on the main aim of helping constituents engage directly and frequently with the government. Loyalty programs, gamification, and social media will stimulate more engagement with mobile e-government apps.
Winning the mobile government game Mechanisms for better customer engagement
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This report was originally published by Booz & Company in 2013.
Strategy& is a global team of practical strategists committed to helping you seize essential advantage. We do that by working alongside you to solve your toughest problems and helping you capture your greatest opportunities. These are complex and high-stakes undertakings — often game-changing transformations. We bring 100 years of strategy consulting experience and the unrivaled industry and functional capabilities of the PwC network to the task. Whether you’re charting your corporate strategy, transforming a function or business unit, or building critical capabilities, we’ll help you create the value you’re looking for with speed, confidence, and impact. We are a member of the PwC network of firms in 157 countries with more than 184,000 people committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax, and advisory services. Tell us what matters to you and find out more by visiting us at strategyand.pwc.com.
Mobile e-government applications have the potential to help governments deliver e-services far more efficiently than other channels such as kiosks or Web-based portals. Designed correctly, mobile apps are highly personal, always on, and able to fulfill a specific set of functions, making them extremely easy to use. They also build on the pervasiveness of mobile technology. Because of these advantages, policymakers across the globe are rushing to launch mobile e-government apps as rapidly as possible. In this effort, governments should keep the overall objective in mind. The goal is to do more than just develop a high volume of apps. Rather, governments should aim to create well-designed apps that spur citizens and other customers (e.g., businesses and tourists) to connect more frequently and directly with the government, increasing transparency and participation. Engagement is critical. To that end, three measures will help increase engagement with mobile e-government apps. First, loyalty programs can reward users for multiple transactions, allowing them to redeem points for products or services, or upgrade to a more exclusive status for future transactions. Second, “gamification,” the application of game principles to real-world situations, introduces the concepts of achievement, competition, and even fun to government services. Third, social media allow users to share their experiences with friends, and provides governments with the means to connect with constituents through channels they are already familiar with and use daily. Beyond these three measures, a critical success factor in the journey to win the mobile game in government is the establishment of the right ecosystem, which leverages the strengths of central government, sectoral agencies, and the private sector. Employed correctly, these measures will help governments develop apps that truly deliver on the promise of e-services — driving higher adoption rates, increasing satisfaction about services among citizens, reducing service delivery costs, and improving citizen engagement.
The mobile app imperative
New technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and social media channels are fundamentally changing the way that people interact and process information. Increasingly, people around the world live their lives online through mobile technology. A recent study by Google shows that smartphone penetration in many countries has reached unprecedented levels. Leading the pack is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at 73.8 percent, closely followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, all with penetration levels in excess of 70 percent. Some studies predict that rates in several countries will be at 84 percent or more by 2015.1 Additionally, prices for mobile technology continue to drop, making these platforms more accessible to lower-income segments of the population. In China, some well-equipped smartphones and tablets now sell for less than US$99. Even Apple, one of the most expensive brands, has dropped its prices below the $99 threshold (with a contract) for the iPhone 5c to lure in more consumers. As a result, Apple sold 9 million iPhones during the first weekend they were available, shattering the previous record of 5 million units. Given these trends, it is no surprise that mobile is becoming the platform of choice to reach customers and constituents. Faced with this new reality, many private-sector companies are relying more heavily on mobile apps to interact with their customers — those that do not risk losing customers to their more digitally savvy competitors. For governments, the risks are just as stark. Although governments do not face competitive pressures from alternate service providers, they must nonetheless change the way they connect with their citizens and customers. Failing to take advantage of new technologies can leave their populations disaffected and disengaged, with a belief that their government does not speak with them in meaningful ways or understand their needs. Conversely, the effective use of mobile apps can increase engagement and communication between citizens and governments, empowering citizens and creating stronger and more satisfied societies.2
The effective use of mobile apps can increase engagement and communication between citizens and governments, empowering citizens and creating stronger and more satisfied societies.
Some policymakers may point to the e-government portals that launched over the past few years and ask why they are no longer sufficient. There are three main reasons. First, the very feature that once distinguished the portals — their comprehensiveness, with all government services united in a single website — now works against them. They contain so much information and so many services as to be overwhelming. Second, government portals can be labyrinthine, and so confuse rather than help citizens. Third, Web portals are impractical on smartphones, due to the smaller screens and limited browsing capability. As a result, some e-government portals are already seeing declining usage rates for some of their listed e-services. These rates will probably continue to fall as users shift to mobile platforms in greater numbers. By contrast, mobile apps offer several advantages. Specifically, they are always on. They are highly personal and have intuitive interfaces that require no explanation or instructions. They contain information that users can access even when they are offline. They can take advantage of the broad array of functions and tools now routinely built into smartphones (such as GPS, video cameras, and others). Perhaps most important, 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. As a result, mobile e-government apps can help governments deliver services more efficiently and effectively. They can drive the adoption rates of e-services by making them more accessible and easier to use. They also 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 (such as in-person service counters) and less popular ones (such as kiosks). By encouraging citizens to pay their bills on time, mobile e-government apps can also lead to improved revenue collection. There are benefits for citizens as well — namely more transparency and greater satisfaction with government services, spurring increased participation in civic life. 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.
The UAE government, for example, has recognized this shift and has sought to get ahead of it. In a recent speech, the prime minister of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, declared that he wanted all government services to be offered through mobile applications and accessible around the clock by 2014. UAE officials that fail to meet this goal could face dismissal.3 Already, several government entities in the UAE offer problem-solving apps that facilitate the delivery of services. For example, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development recently created a business registration and licensing app, which allows startup companies to reserve trade names, renew business licenses, and inquire about the status of fines, all through smartphones or tablets. Other governments globally are also launching mobile apps. Canada has a “My Municipality Services” app where citizens can report faults and issues; Singapore has a guide app for tourists; and Hong Kong offers an app with intelligent traffic reporting.
Engagement is critical
These are admirable first steps, but as policymakers around the globe undertake a large-scale effort to deliver as many services as possible through e-government apps, they should keep the real objective in mind. The goal is greater than simply developing the largest number of apps in the least amount of time. Rather, the ultimate aim is to engage citizens by making the delivery of government services faster and easier. Deploying a large number of problematic apps — e.g., those that routinely crash, lack an intuitive interface, or try to pack too many services and functions into a single offering — could be counterproductive and may discourage the uptake of future apps. To avoid these missteps, policymakers should make a deliberate effort to design e-government apps that are as engaging and user-friendly as possible, borrowing approaches that have already proved successful in private-sector apps. Payment functionality is a good example. Many banks, wireless providers, credit card companies, and other commercial entities now have mobile apps that allow customers to execute most common transactions from mobile platforms, including checking balances, paying bills, and confirming the status of transactions. The most successful payment apps share several common attributes. They are very simple and convenient, designed with the customer experience in mind, thereby minimizing the time and effort required to complete the transaction. They require the least number of steps possible, and so provide few opportunities for the transaction to be abandoned. They are also secure, using trusted payment-option brands and the latest methods to protect users’ data. Moreover, they offer reduced transaction costs, or in many cases, impose no fee at all. Three mechanisms to drive engagement In developing e-government apps that can lead to greater citizen engagement, agencies and policymakers should consider three mechanisms that have a proven track record in the private sector: loyalty programs, gamification, and social media.
Loyalty programs Loyalty programs, also known as affinity programs, provide incentives that reward customers and citizens for frequent use of e-government services through apps. The actual incentives can vary widely. For example, participants who use a government bill-payment app may be eligible for a prize drawing. Bahrain’s Electricity and Water Authority recently ran a promotion in which citizens who paid online through an app were eligible to win a refund on their bill. Discounts are another type of loyalty incentive — citizens who pay a number of bills online can qualify for a lower payment. Yet another variation is a points system, similar to airline miles, in which participants accumulate points for executing transactions through a specific app and can later redeem them for discounts on government products or services. In addition to a basic redemption program, citizens who achieve a certain number of points can be upgraded to a higher status for future transactions, such as a priority line at government service offices (see Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1 Loyalty programs reward citizens for their frequent use of mobile e-government services
Integrated Incentive Program Illustration
Loyalty card Citizens
Earn points for using m-services (e.g., making a mobile payment)
Obtain a premier status
Redeem points for discounts on government products or services
Enjoy exclusive beneﬁts thanks to higher status (e.g., priority service desks at government ofﬁces)
Source: Strategy& analysis
A successful loyalty program often requires a broad network of partnerships. Many governments, especially in the GCC, are particularly well-positioned to build this network, by taking advantage of their partnerships with state-owned and private enterprises. By making the program as versatile as possible, and building a network of retail partners, shops, and other participants, governments can offer the widest possible range of incentives and reach the broadest possible audience. Gamification The second mechanism to increase engagement with mobile e-government apps is gamification. The aim is to introduce a sense of fun to seemingly mundane tasks, by tapping into the psychological drive in people to pursue rewards, achieve goals, advance to higher status levels, and compete (see Exhibit 2).
Exhibit 2 Gamification applies common game principles to real-world situations to encourage uptake
Human desires Rewardpursuing Statusseeking Achievementoriented Selfexpressing Competitive Gamiﬁcation mechanics 1 Points 2 Levels 3 Challenges 4 Virtual goods 5 Leaderboards Primary desire fulfilled Additional desires affected
Key attributes of gamiﬁcation 1 Points that can be redeemed 2 Levels that give a clear sense of statuses
Attainable challenges that are also fun 3 to pursue Virtual goods via social media loop 4 (e.g., Facebook) that can be shared and displayed in public 5 Leaderboards that encourage competition among social groups
Source: Reproduced with the kind permission of Bunchball from “Gamification 101: An Introduction to the Use of Game Dynamics to Influence Behavior,” Bunchball, 2010
Gamification has already been applied successfully to mobile apps in other areas. For example, weight-loss apps set specific goals for users, and allow them to record their progress, log meals, and research nutrients. Fitness apps allow people to earn “badges” by running a certain number of kilometers. Similarly, education apps help users learn new subjects by allowing them to compete with friends. In all cases, the gamification aspect increases engagement with the app while also nudging users toward a set of desired behaviors. In the government services realm, mobile apps can apply the same principles. For example, citizens could gain points by using an app to pay bills (and gain more points for paying on time), report local issues such as faulty traffic lights, refer their friends to digital services, and post feedback about their experience. Conversely, they could lose points for negative behaviors like late payments or traffic violations. The point system could be structured in tiers to introduce a hierarchy of status levels. When citizens accrue 500 points, for example, they move from “passive” to “good,” and at 1,000 points they become a “role model.” The app could be configured to issue challenges to users when they are close to the next level — sending them a text message saying that they only need 75 points to achieve “role model” status — and posting overall results on a leaderboard (introducing another level of status for high-achievers). As with loyalty programs, the points could be redeemed for products or services. Social media Third, the rapid growth of social media make them a key mechanism for governments to engage with the public. Facebook now has more than 1.2 billion users globally, LinkedIn has over 225 million, and Twitter over 500 million. All three are projected to continue growing. Already governments are leveraging these tools. President Barack Obama’s Facebook page has more than 36 million fans and features social, economic, environmental, and foreign policy opinions and articles that draw thousands of comments per day. The office of British prime minister David Cameron has close to half a million followers on Twitter. In the UAE, approximately 1.8 million people follow H.H. Sheikh Mohammed, and his Facebook page has 831,000 “likes.” And Bahrain’s eGovernment Authority has nearly 14,000 “likes” on Facebook (see Exhibit 3, page 12). In the context of e-government apps, social media are not an aspect that function in isolation. Instead, social media can be layered on to the other two mechanisms — loyalty programs and gamification — to make them even more engaging. For example, users can use Facebook to post updates regarding their e-government app status, or share recommendations or opinions regarding the app with their friends. Governments can also use social media–based apps to let citizens vote on priorities.
More broadly, social media make communications between citizens and government more public and more transparent, fostering greater participation. Indeed, given the pervasiveness of social media, and their ease of use on mobile platforms, governments that do not build this functionality into new e-government apps will be putting themselves at a serious disadvantage.
Exhibit 3 Gamification applies common game principles to real-world situations to encourage uptake
Percentage of Population Using Social Media and Smartphones, 2012–3
56.4% 52.9% 45.2%
55.4% Strategy& Spain 23.0% 37.4%
0 Australia Singapore Norway Sweden Hong Kong UAE Denmark Ireland U.K. South Korea Saudi Arabia
Smartphone Facebook Twitter
Note: N/A=not available. Source: Internet World Stats; Mashable; Our Mobile Planet by Google; national statistics and surveys
Critical success factors
All three of these mechanisms share several requirements of apps development — in particular that the apps be intuitive and easy to use. The interface must be simple enough that the average person can figure it out on the first try with no external guidance. If not, the app is too complicated. In addition, the underlying code must be bug-free and reliable. Developing apps at this level of sophistication requires skills that some government entities may not possess. They may not have the ability to code and develop, or apply game principles (including psychology), introduce payment systems, or build a network of external retail partners that can provide incentives. Given this challenge, governments should consider developing an ecosystem that leverages the power of central government, the expertise of sectoral agencies, and the capabilities of the private sector to develop more engaging apps. Specifically, the central government should focus on broader areas like building a loyalty program and developing guidelines for gamification and social media. Governments should also create a government app store to host all developed government apps (along with outlining specific eligibility guidelines to determine which apps are eligible for sale through the store). Given the platform nature of some app functions — such as payment and security — central government should build foundational enablers for these functions, along with apps that touch on national priorities and cut across different sectors. Individual agencies should focus on developing sector-specific apps (e.g., health, education, tourism) based on the sectoral priorities that they are driving. Finally, the private sector can be a positive engine of innovation. If central governments make their data open and accessible to all, then the private sector can use this data to develop innovative apps across different government sectors at no cost for government. Such open data initiatives would encourage participation by the broader digital ecosystem, creating jobs and value. The private sector can also be involved in central government foundational projects through public–private partnerships.4
Governments should consider developing an ecosystem that leverages the power of central government, the expertise of sectorial agencies, and the capabilities of the private sector to develop more engaging apps.
As private-sector technology moves forward in its use of mobile technology, governments must keep pace or risk seeming behind the times in the eyes of their constituents. Mobile e-government apps are an opportunity to close the gap and deliver services in a well-designed and efficient way. These three mechanisms — loyalty programs, gamification, and social media — all have a proven track record in commercial apps, and can all help spur engagement in e-government apps. A concerted effort among central government, sectoral agencies, and the private sector needs to be orchestrated to drive this change. The result will be more compelling technology and, more important, stronger ties between governments and their constituents.
UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority February 2013 statistics; Strategy& analysis.
Ramez T. Shehadi and Raymond Khoury, “Customer-centric e-government: Modernizing the MENA region’s public sector,” Strategy&, 2009. Also, Ramez T. Shehadi, Fady Kassatly, Danny Karam, and Michael Cherfan. “Digital spring: MENA governments must speak the language of social media,” Strategy&, 2012.
Specifically, Sheikh Mohammed said, “When I found [some of the Emiratis] a bit hesitant and reluctant to go with this change, I gave them a promise that those who will not adapt to this transformation within a year will be given a farewell party.” See “Farewell Party for Those Who Can’t Join the Development March, Says UAE Vice-President,” Gulf News, May 22, 2013 (http://gulfnews.com/business/general/farewellparty-for-those-who-can-t-join-the-development-march-says-uae-vicepresident-1.1187154).
Ramez T. Shehadi, Dr. Raymond Khoury, Fady Kassatly, and Abdulkader Lamaa. “Self-sustainable e-government: A road map to financial independence and value creation,” Strategy&, 2013.
Strategy& is a global team of practical strategists committed to helping you seize essential advantage. We do that by working alongside you to solve your toughest problems and helping you capture your greatest opportunities.
These are complex and high-stakes undertakings — often game-changing transformations. We bring 100 years of strategy consulting experience and the unrivaled industry and functional capabilities of the PwC network to the task. Whether you’re
charting your corporate strategy, transforming a function or business unit, or building critical capabilities, we’ll help you create the value you’re looking for with speed, confidence, and impact.
We are a member of the PwC network of firms in 157 countries with more than 184,000 people committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax, and advisory services. Tell us what matters to you and find out more by visiting us at strategyand.pwc.com.
This report was originally published by Booz & Company in 2013.
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