When the Obama Administration announced its commitment to a digital strategy in 2012, barely 25 percent of Americans were using smart phones. A year later, that number had doubled, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. But as agencies look to embrace mobility and take advantage of rapid technological and market advances to increase their efficiency, they are encountering challenges associated with implementation.
According to a panel of government IT professionals speaking at immixGroup’s recent event, “Agency Innovation: Making Mobile Government a Reality”, mobility holds the promise of helping agencies cope with budgetary and manpower pressures that show no sign of easing.
The three experts – one from the U.S. Census Bureau, one from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and one from the Defense Manpower Data Center – are all facing similar challenges in embracing mobility, but they all share optimism for its potential in changing how their agencies fulfill their missions.
Brian McGrath, CIO for U.S. Census Bureau, credited his agency’s move to a private cloud several years ago with helping to ease budget constraints. It has put the agency “on a very nice glide path” to reduce costs, he said.
Now, the Census Bureau’s attention has turned to laying the groundwork for the 2020 national census, including developing a plan to leverage new and emerging technologies. “The Internet and BYOD will be a huge play for us,” McGrath said, “our new director [wants to set] a target that 60 percent of the American public respond online.”
Even if Census achieves its goal to move census data collection online, field workers will still need to go door-to-door in order to facilitate data collection for the 30 percent of American homes that do not have internet connectivity. It is in this situation that a well developed mobility solution will be most important. McGrath said there are questions about how much data can, or should, reside on the devices until they can be uploaded to Bureau’s computers and ensure that there’s a security policy in place to protect data in the event of device loss or compromise.
The Census Bureau will have an opportunity to evaluate some of these issues before the next major census. While the agency is known primarily for its once-a-decade national census, it conducts an economic census twice a decade. The next one, in 2017, will be conducted entirely online, McGrath said, which will provide insights into technologies, respondent rates, and other factors that will determine the success of online approaches.
For Greg Youst, DISA’s chief mobility engineer, the challenges posed by mobility are even more formidable, though the potential return is even greater.
Youst described DISA as a business that provides the network for the Department of Defense (DoD). There is enthusiasm for adopting mobile technologies throughout the department, but it is a very complex environment. Mobile solutions have to work with the department’s public key infrastructure (PKI) and cybersecurity requirements, on the battlefield as well as the Pentagon.
There are creative ways that mobile technology can be integrated into DoD use, particularly if they can incorporate Defense-specific policies and procedures. For instance, Youst said, it would be very useful for building sensors to be able to detect a person’s smartphone and automatically turn off its camera feature when the person enters the building. If the person then enters a SCIF – a secure compartmentalized information facility, a room shielded from electronic eavesdropping – he suggested the sensors could tell the phone to shutdown completely.
All the panelists agreed that vendors looking to sell mobile solutions to the federal government need to think about the unique constraints of government when they pitch their ideas. Youst suggested that vendors should pursue NIST FIPS certification before they approach agencies
Both agencies and vendors need to take a long term view into incorporating mobile technology into government operations. With best practices in place and a clear understanding of potential obstacles along the way, mobile technology can go a long way to moving an agency’s mission forward to better meet its goals and serve its citizens.