Over the last decade, electronic government, also known as e-government, became the buzzword among cities and counties attempting to take advantage of new technologies to provide services to residents online. Today, though, the "e" is being replaced with an "m," as residents become more connected through mobile technologies.

By the end of this year, one in two Americans will own a smartphone, compared with just one in 10 during 2008, according to New York-based Nielsen Research. "By 2013, mobile data traffic is expected to increase 66 times," says Greg Licamele, Fairfax County, Va.'s director of communications integration and engagement. "In the fourth quarter of 2010, smartphones outsold computers for the first time ever. Mobile is the future."

Because more people can afford mobile devices than personal computers, m-government applications can enable greater interaction and service delivery, improved communications and coordination, and make greater progress toward digital equality, says Susan Cable, strategic advisor and program manager for the Public Technology Institute's Citizen-Engaged Communities and Web 2.0 Recognition programs. Conducting business using mobile technology also improves the efficiency of local governments' internal operations.

Why go mobile?

For local governments, mobile technologies present a number of opportunities to improve communication with residents. Mobile phones provide access to typically hard-to-reach groups, such as seniors, people with disabilities, lower incomes and those living in rural areas. With mobile government technologies, cities and counties have "tremendous opportunities for community messaging and to capitalize on networks through which people forward information to friends, families and co-workers," Cable says. "Communication impact can be appreciably compounded."

Mobile government technologies also offer more flexible communication options, such as voice communications or Interactive Voice Response for visually impaired residents and text messaging for those who are hearing-impaired, Cable says. "Citizens have access to government information and services anytime and anywhere using wireless networks through their mobile and wireless devices," she says.

Mobile applications also offer greater opportunities for open government and more personalized interaction with residents. "Mobility is no longer a hot new technology," says Christopher Longshore, Arvada, Colo.'s information systems manager. "It is mainstream, and our citizens expect to be able to interact with us when and how it is convenient for them. We have a responsibility to be a well-managed and responsive organization, and allowing citizens to work with us from mobile devices helps us to achieve that goal."