"From a development perspective we tend to want to solve the problem at the top and then we want to go in and implement it, and if it doesn't work it was a failure," Shah says. "Well, the failure was in the process, not the product necessarily, and what Google and everyone else does is they're constantly changing the product as they're getting feedback in. Whether it's Facebook or Google, as they get feedback they're constantly adding and making changes to it, and that I think is one way in a process of innovation that we might think about how we look at technology differently."
Government, for its part, could do well to position itself as an information platform, she argues. Governments collect and sit on massive stores of data that, if made accessible to the general public -- and the developer community in particular -- could provide the foundation for innovative new applications that address social challenges and evolve into a commercial product for a startup, such as the fee-based water application in India.
Sonal recalls that when Todd Park was serving as the CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services, he embarked on a campaign to open up the stockpiles of health data the agency collects, an effort that resulted in the launch of at least 10 new startups. (Park later went on to serve as the CTO for the entire federal government, the position he currently occupies.)
Watching the Mobile Money
Other panelists emphasized the importance of governments establishing regulatory frameworks that encourage the development and application of mobile applications with an appropriate level of oversight, particularly for apps in areas such as the transfer of mobile money.
Then, too, governments have a role to play in providing the fundamental infrastructure that supports the flow of an escalating volume of data over wireless networks.
"If you do subscribe to the idea that mobile technology really is going to be a game changer in a lot of these areas -- health care, financial services, etc. -- we really do need to work on releasing more spectrum, because the need for data is only going to increase as time goes on, and spectrum is basically the highway through which all of these services travel, so we need to look at that," Covell says.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.