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WHAT’S NEXT FOR FEDERAL MOBILITY?
industry to help reconcile that goal with critical needs for security, accountability and value in all information technology buys. Even so, tight budgets are making it difficult to strike the right balance.
What is mobility?
Mobility is not new. Laptop computers have been popular in government for nearly two decades, and Blackberry devices, for over a decade. In the last six years, since the iPhone was introduced, the proliferation of new smart phones and tablet computers has radically changed home and work environments by adding many new functions and innovations. Smart phones are now ubiquitous in homes and public places and, to a lesser degree, workplaces. In the next two years even more advanced devices are anticipated. As devices have evolved rapidly, so has the federal approach. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel spearheaded a national online dialogue about federal mobility in January 2012, from which several agenda items were folded into the Digital Government Plan released in May. Four months later, the White House released a policy tool kit for federal agencies outlining best practices for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) mobility.
The pace of mobile device adoption by federal agencies has accelerated, ever since the Obama administration made mobility a priority in its Digital Government Plan a year ago. The drive for a more mobile workplace also is being spurred along by the many federal workers who carry their own personal smart phones to work each day. But enthusiasm for mobile government is being tempered by the many complex policy, technical and management considerations that it brings. The extremely rapid changes in mobile technologies have favored short-term experimentation rather than long-term investments. At this time, key agency leaders appear eager to reap the huge benefits of mobility, including the agility and flexibility it offers. They are also reaching out to
The policies to date have defined mobility as a capability, or group of capabilities, enabled by mobile devices, infrastructures and applications. Mobility indicates not only device usage, but also makes possible changes in how, when and where citizens and federal employees interact with each other and with data. VanRoekel has touted increased productivity for field staff and teleworkers, along with reduced real estate costs, as rewards of mobility. More mobile tools can also make federal enforcement agents and emergency responders more effective and safe.
The agency is allowing workers under a BYOD agreement to securely access VA networks without retaining any VA data on the devices. The agency recently awarded a $4.2 million contract for initial development of a mobile device management system. Going forward, the VA is evaluating the business need for additional iPads and other mobile devices. “We have about 40,000 cell phones and 20,000 Blackberrys in use, and other mobile devices will start to replace those,” Baker told FedScoop. At the ATF, CIO Rick Holgate helped manage the transition of more than 2,000 special agents from Blackberrys to iPhones last year. Additional personnel will be transitioned this year, Holgate wrote in a recent update. He also is cochair of the ACT-IAC mobility group.
Current status of mobility
The federal CIO Council in December 2012 reported major progress in adopting mobile technologies by 21 federal agencies: Fully 20 of the 21 agencies had either expanded, or were planning to expand, the use of mobile tools, “including newer models of smart phones and tablet computing devices” the council stated in its report. Several agencies are ahead of the pack. At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, physicians led the drive to adopt iPads to record medical information directly while seeing patients at VA medical centers, without the need to return to an office desktop. The VA has deployed 475 iPads and iPhones, primarily to the clinicians, to date, Roger Baker, CIO, told FedScoop. The VA also is testing out iPads for home caregivers to wounded veterans and for workers assisting homeless veterans.
At the Department of Agriculture, anticipating the need to manage up to 100,000 mobile devices, officials recently issued a three-part solicitation for managing both government-furnished and employee-owned devices. The agency wants to be able to “containerize” government data on the mobile devices to keep it separate and secure.
Despite the gains in recent months, federal agencies reported to the CIO Council last year that they need more guidance on best practices for mobility, including policy, technical and management advice. They also want a broad-based contracting vehicle for mobile devices. To develop the best practices, agencies are working collaboratively within groups established under the digital plan, including the Digital Services Advisory Group, and technical exchange meetings are being hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
encryption, automatic security testing and device sanitation. Similarly, the council noted that the “relative immaturity” of mobile techonologies was hampering resolution of the security concerns. Management of mobile devices, and their integration within federal networks and links to existing infrastructures, also are problematic. That extends to determining all lifecycle costs of mobility, as well as return on investment.
Issues and concerns
Prime areas where policy and legal guidance are needed are in protecting the privacy of sensitive government information contained on mobile devices and on how to handle legal liability, compensation and losses related to data and devices owned by agencies and personnel. The CIO Council cited a need for robust technical solutions for mobility, including identity authentication for users, data
What is next?
Federal agencies already see mobile as a path to success. General Services Administration’s Gwynne Kostin told FedScoop, “Those who are going to be winning will not be thinking about the desktop or the laptop or devices. It will be those who think beyond that.” In the next few months, government leaders will continue to take steps on a path forward, although they may be slowed by present budget concerns. How does that path look? Several processes are underway...
“Those who are going to be winning will not be thinking about the desktop or the laptop or devices. It will be those who think beyond that.” - Gwynne Kostin, General Services Administration
What is next:
1 – Working across agencies to develop business use cases. These use cases would outline a return on investment for the use of mobile tools to accomplish a specific agency mission. A mobile committee is formulating five use cases to be used across government, according to Margie Graves, DHS deputy CIO and a member of the digital services advisory group. 2 – Developing common technical standards, platforms and best practices for mobility, along with industry input. By May 2013, agencies should have an interagency mobile application development model and guidelines for mobile wireless security, Graves said at a recent mobility conference. 3 – Establishing governance and management models that can be shared government-wide so that agencies do not have to reinvent the wheel for mobility, said Dave McClure, the General Services Administration’s associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies. “This is a crawlwalk-run process. We are still evolving,” McClure told FedScoop.
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