Jacob Parcell, GSA’s manager of Mobile Programs, has become the help desk for agencies that want to develop mobile services and communicate with the public using the most innovative technologies available.

Parcell is the point person for 45 federal agencies as they move into a new age of getting their message out on a platform that includes mobile web, SMS and mobile apps. He’s available at any time to troubleshoot problems.

Mobile is on government’s doorstep, and it’s knocking. Government needs to get ready and welcome it in.” – GSA

His job is essential for the federal government undergoing significant change. While mobile tech has caught on quickly for consumers shifting from personal computers to mobile tools — 96 percent of Americans ages 18-29 own a cell phone — government has some catching up to do.

“We have our fingers on the pulse of mobile government,” Parcell told Breaking Gov. “We’re working on accelerating mobile, growing the mobile government community.”

In his role, Parcell helps agencies jumpstart programs. He provides information on how to do it, what kind of services to offer and the best ways to connect with citizens. He holds regular tutorials with agencies, among many other services. His office also holds an annual new users conference in May in Washington.

“Every agency is thinking about mobile services,” he said.

And there’s plenty of confusion about which way to go, he adds. Should there be mobile websites? How do they deliver free service? Do they abandon their traditional websites and totally embrace mobile? How much will it cost and will it save money for their strapped budgets?

The GSA has said government needs to make technology investments and build systems that will support the way people are communicating today and in the future.

“Early mobile adopters — like the early Web adopters– are experimenting. Some have created products. Some are beginning to build programs and strategies. But in the 90s, there was no overall coordination of federal Web efforts. Websites grew like kudzu, creating not only great services but also, in many cases, redundancies that confused citizens and consumed resources,” GSA said on its website outlining the changing website world.

“Mobile is on government’s doorstep, and it’s knocking. Government needs to get ready and welcome it in,” the GSA said.

Parcell’s mandate is simple: Educate federal departments and agencies on the benefits of mobile use, identify better mobile projects and how to implement them and support interagency acceleration to mobile government.

In July, his office launched a how-to page called Making Mobile Gov. It also has an apps site that lists 90 free government apps, including FEMA, the IRS, EPA and the FBI.

On the first Friday of each month, Parcell’s team takes an agency’s website and conducts a web usability study that’s available for all agencies to review.

He has four strategic steps for agencies to get focused and get started:

  • Look at the mission and the audience they serve
  • Evaluate current tools and data centers
  • Identify what services and information they need
  • Figure out how to get the equipment and software they need internally or from vendors

Parcell acknowledges it’s a learning curve for agencies. When an agency asks for help in developing mobile services, Parcell points to the GSA’s apps page which lists 90 agency apps with dozens of interesting ones, apps numbers that have grown dramatically in just the last year.

He shares current trends with agencies and connects them with other agencies to learn about going mobile.

The development work is done by the agency, but Purcell is available as a resource and troubleshooter.

GSA has also asked the public for their ideas to get the citizen to take part in new ways to create mobile apps that people want. The winning suggestions carry monetary awards and are incorporated into an agency’s site.

How GSA Mobile Helped the SBA

In a very short time, Parcell has made a difference in helping agencies launch their own mobile services.

The Small Business Administration tapped into Parcell’s expertise before it launched its mobile services eight months ago, according to Jack Bienko, SBA deputy director for Entrepreneurship Education.

Parcell gave the SBA advice on what strategy they should be taking and whether they should optimize a website for mobile or work strictly on Mobile. The SBA is doing both, Bienko said.

He also helped the agency conduct a review for IT security and how to test for accessibility issues for users impaired by sight and hearing disabilities, among other issues, and how to implement those services on a mobile device, Bienko said.

“We want to share SBA information designed for entrepreneurs who are on the go,” Bienko said. “Mobile apps are an excellent choice to find resources in their community.”

The SBA also took advantage of GSA’s intranet where it can look up other agencies and get lessons on hurdles they faced as well as a place to share best practices and successful ideas, he said.

“Jacob’s team is available on an as needed basis. It serves as a hotline for us. We can pick up the phone. They can quickly give us an answer. They are customer focused,” Bienko added.

Parcell has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech. Prior to his current position, he worked at the GSA’s National Contact Center (NCC) which serves as a single point of contact for citizens who have questions about federal agencies, programs, and services. You can reach him at jacob.parcell@gsa.gov.