Mobile Government – A milestone in the evolution of public services

Government’s vision of allowing access to its services 24x7 would not have been complete without allowing such eServices to evolve and thus facilitating and allowing access to these services from anywhere

Over the past 15 years MITA has worked towards facilitating the eGovernment programme
Over the past 15 years MITA has worked towards facilitating the eGovernment programme

by Malcolm Mizzi, MITA Enterprise Architect on Mobile App Initiatives

Over the past 15 years MITA has worked towards facilitating the eGovernment programme. This work has served citizens and businesses alike, facilitating and allowing easy access to government services anytime – accessible online 24x7. Government’s vision of allowing access to its services 24x7 would not have been complete without allowing such eServices to evolve and thus facilitating and allowing access to these services from anywhere – thus introducing more mobility in services being rendered.

During the early months of last year, the Office of the Principal Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, supported by MITA, had issued a green paper with the aim to drive forward a number of consultation sessions, with the public and private sectors, prior to the compilation and publishing of a mobile government strategy. Following these discussions, the Mobile Government Strategy was launched in November 2016. 

MITA’s Executive Chairman Tony Sultana at the launch of ‘maltapps’
MITA’s Executive Chairman Tony Sultana at the launch of ‘maltapps’

The strategy paved the way for Government’s public service renewal vision – that of facilitating and enabling access to public services 24x7 from anywhere. The published strategy also served to further the implementation of the already established Public Service Renewal Programme, being driven by the Office of the Principal Permanent Secretary.

Following the launch of the strategy, MITA has worked hand in hand with the various government CIOs as well as the private sector to engage in discussions and immediately initiated work specifically targeting the apps identified for launch towards end of March 2017. Complementing the strategy, an additional two guideline documents have been published - a technical guidelines document and a style guide document.  The aim behind these publications was to further facilitate and accelerate take up of the mobile app initiatives. The technical guide focused on the technology aspects of developing mobile applications as well as outlined a number of considerations from a technology perspective. 

On the other hand, the style guide provided details of how government mobile applications should look, hence addressing the aesthetics and look and feel – thus ensuring conformity as well as a common government branding across government mobile apps and other government eservices offered through other channels such as government websites.

Mario Cutajar, Principal Permanent Secretary, addressing attendees at the ‘maltapps’ launching ceremony
Mario Cutajar, Principal Permanent Secretary, addressing attendees at the ‘maltapps’ launching ceremony

Taking a closer look at the strategy, it is spread over a period of two years and identifies three phases. The initial phase launched to the public last week relates to mCommunications. The first wave of apps focuses on extending and complementing the existing communication channels in the exchange of information between Government and citizens. Some of the apps launched during this first phase also provide a means through which citizens can provide feedback to the respective service owner. These published apps target a variety of government services, including amongst others taxation, customs, health as well as environmental services.

Looking at the first wave of released apps, Government has positioned itself, in collaboration with public and private sector, to tap on the advances in technology to transform and achieve higher levels of excellence in the provision of services, particularly aimed at reducing bureaucracy as well as promoting public services anywhere and anytime.

In order to ensure that citizens would have easy access to all government published mservices, the Government, in collaboration with MITA, has developed ‘maltapps’. ‘maltapps’ is a mobile app which is downloadable from app stores for the prevalent platforms. The app provides visibility and easy access to all official Malta Government published mServices. In essence, the app represents Government’s mservices store. It lists all published mServices, classifying them under twelve super sectors, representing the various Government functions. These super sectors are the same categories identified in the newly revamped portal – thus ensuring a homogenous façade towards government provisioned services.

The ‘maltapps’ also allows users to access the presented mservices via a simple click. In fact, ‘maltapps’ allows users to access websites directly as well as download or launch mobile apps directly from within the app itself, without having to go through the bother of locating the required app in the respective stores.

The concept behind the app is essentially twofold, since it not only facilitates identification of desired government apps but also gives the required peace of mind to users that all apps listed in the ‘maltapps’ are legitimate and officially owned and published by the Government of Malta.

The second wave of mobile apps, planned to be launched in March 2018 shall provide citizens with additional functionality. Besides providing citizens the ability to view and exchange information, phase two will introduce the concept of mTransactions. Such functionality would provide citizens the ability to affect payments via their mobile devices, directly from government’s mservice. Such services could relate to, for example, paying fines online or requesting public registry certificates. Such functionality would further promote the availability of government 24x7 access to services anywhere, anytime as well as introduce yet another mechanism of how to transact with Government.

By this time, the provisioned mservices would have matured and would be in a state whereby certain mservices would also include elements of personalisation. Through personalisation users would be able to ‘identify’ themselves with the respective mservices, hence having a more personal experience when consuming the service. This would allow them access to personalized content and information. The latter would be possible through the use of secure mechanisms of authentication and identification, which could vary from the use of social media authentication (such as the use of Facebook or Google) to the use of government’s eID. Different types of mservices would require different levels of security, hence different authentication mechanisms – security plays a key role here. 

During December 2018, a number of mservices targeted towards public officers will also be made available to facilitate the way public officers provide services to the general public. mAdministartion shall enable public officials to provide services beyond their office location. This will introduce new ways of providing services whilst also promoting mobility of the administrative functions within Government. This transition entails a number of challenging changes both to Government’s processes as well as service delivery.

Throughout the final phase of the mobile strategy, government shall also seek to introduce apps to enable and facilitate mDemocracy – a mechanism whereby citizens and businesses would have the opportunity to provide feedback and be participative in certain government decision making, such as the adoption or introduction of new government policies or regulations. By the end of December 2018, Government would be revising the strategy to ensure continuity in the successful work already conducted as well as to re-align to new technology and emerging business needs in serving citizens.

It is important to point out that Mobile Government services are intended to complement, not replace, existing service delivery channels, such as over-the-counter, call centres and eGovernment. mServices are intended to offer the convenience of instant access, wherever one happens to be, through a mobile device. In this context, the published set of apps complement this vision and as such facilitate access of information related to the existing service/s being offered by the respective Government functions.

Last week’s press launch of mobile apps addressed by the Principal Permanent Secretary, Mr Mario Cutajar and MITA Chairman, Mr Tony Sultana marked an important milestone in the evolution of public services. The Principal Permanent Secretary explained that the overall aim is to facilitate the means through which citizens engage with government services.

Government is committed in keeping the momentum in attaining its vision, continuously capitalising on technology advancements. The first phase of the strategy is only the beginning, leading towards further evolution of the transformation of the Government’s interaction with citizens and the public in general.