According to the Pew Research Center, the majority (56 percent) of American adults own smartphones. As mobile devices become the preferred means of communication, local governments are taking advantage of the prevalent medium.

Immediate Communication

Mobile communication has been on Little Rock, Ark.’s, radar for a while, according to City Manager Bruce Moore. For years, the city’s communications had been increasingly electronic – via emails, websites and online calendars, but another piece of the puzzle needed to fall in place.

“I wanted to be able to not only communicate more effectively with our employees, but with the public,” Moore says. “That was really the genesis of [the city’s new smartphone app].”

The city partnered with a company called MyCommunity Mobile to develop the app for $8,500. “But we mainly worked in-house with our information technology staff,” Moore says. “Not only is it an IT piece, but it’s a communications piece and a marketing piece, so we brought those teams together [on the development].”  

The free app allows people to contact city leaders, report problems and learn about municipal services and upcoming events. It also allows residents to report issues to the proper department by snapping a picture.
“You can report all kinds of non-emergency issues from potholes to… a traffic light [being] out,” Moore says. But the conversation doesn’t end there. “The thing I’m really excited about is you can track the status of the request,” he says. This adds a new level of transparency and engagement to the way Little Rock does business.  

Promoted through social and traditional media, the app was released three months ago and initially had over 1,000 downloads from the iTunes and Google Play stores, Moore says.

Looking to the future, Moore says Little Rock will continue to use the best practices from other similarly connected cities to improve the app.

“I think we’ve had a very successful launch, we’ve received a lot of very positive feedback.” Moore says, “I’m really excited about not only the future of the app, but how we’ll continue to improve communications.”   

In the future, Moore thinks that mobility will continue to grow in popularity and importance for local government.

“As a local government we need to continue to assess how we communicate with the citizenry… we need to have various [communication] mechanisms and [apps] are one.”

Mobile Payments

But apps aren’t just for communication with residents. Municipalities in Idaho have been experimenting with mobile fee collection through an app called Idaho OnTheGo.  

Built on the Android platform and launched in March, Idaho OnTheGo is a secure, government-only method for mobile bill collection. An optional reader ($90.50) is plugged into the phone’s data port, giving any municipal employee the power to take payments. However, unlike similar products, such as Square, OnTheGo encrypts credit card information as soon as it’s scanned.

“It’s paramount that security be the first priority,” Rich Steckler, director of marketing for OnTheGo says. “If you’re not securing your customer’s information from the get go, you might as well not be doing it at all.”

The app can also take payment regardless of connectivity. What this means, Steckler says, is that if a municipal employee needs to collect funds in a more rural area without WiFi or cellular coverage, when they swipe a card, the encrypted data is then stored until the device is once again connected to the network.

“To my knowledge this is an industry first – [a product] with store and go functionality,” Steckler says. “I don’t know of another service that can do that.”

This is especially helpful for law enforcement officers working in remote areas, says Steckler.

The first Idaho OnTheGo user was the rural Clark County Sheriff’s Office, he says. The office began using the app as a way for officers to take roadside payment for minor infractions, or from out-of-state offenders, who benefit from not having to fill out paperwork. The process saves time and resources.

While the app itself is free, OnTheGo charges a “Portal Administration Fee” of 3 percent of a transaction subtotal plus $1 to customers. “For example, for a $50.00 transaction, the customer would be charged $52.50, and the city or county will receive the statutory amount,” Steckler says.