Washington has long been abuzz about trying to embrace the lean, agile ethos that powers the private sector, and the possibilities a more mobile workforce brings to the federal government.
But whether it’s talk about tablets or telework, a lot of it remains just that — talk. For all the great ideas and visions for new missions, mobility within the federal government seems to go through fits and starts.
There have been outlying success stories in federal mobility, but it’s still easy to spot a government employee, who usually must carry multiple mobile devices, one of which is probably a BlackBerry.
As part of a new special report on federal mobility, FedScoop found the reason that remains a reality isn’t so simple.
By the time an agency acquires a new capability, it’s outdated. Security strategies have to move to fit new operating systems, applications and devices, many outside of the firewall. Telework policies have to factor in location awareness and labor laws on top of any technical hurdles. Mobility does not come with the flip of a switch.
The technology is there, though. And now government leaders are setting their focus on those other hurdles — like culture, adoption and secure enterprise integration — to drive federal mobility.
Click below for the full report.
“Technology in itself is amoral; it’s how we choose to use it that’s good or bad,” Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray said. “We need to be cognizant of being good stewards as best we can.”
Bray is one of several federal IT leaders FedScoop interviewed at its 5th annual MobileGov Summit about the government’s progress with mobility. Many said it’s a work in progress.
“Like any large organization, there are many different cultures going on,” Bray said. “I’m sure there are startups and Silicon Valley firms that are leading the way. I hope in public service we can begin to understand the different needs, because it may be that not one-size-fits-all.”
Sonny Hashmi, the recently departed CIO of the General Services Administration, pointed to culture change as a significant challenge impeding mobility.
“Mobile is not just a technology — it requires significant culture change that agencies have to undertake both internally and as they provide services to citizens,” said Hashmi, who envisions a mobile government in which federal servants fulfill agency missions from the front lines, not behind desks. “Culture change takes time, but I think we’re over that tipping point where you’ll see increased adoption of mobile technologies in government.”
While mobility in government doesn’t yet reflect the expectations of the consumer world, some federal leaders are more optimistic of the progress.
“I don’t think we’re quite as far behind as people as say we are,” said Wolf Tombe, chief technology officer at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “I agree that there is a perception that government is lagging behind, but the reality is I think we could communicate better on the successes we are having.”
Tombe spoke at MobileGov April 1 about CBP developing mobile apps that integrate wearable technologies and have life-saving implications.
With the “ability to access your device and data anywhere, anytime you need it,” Bray said it has to be done “in a secure fashion.”
That’s the key here, as it is with most anything in the evolving federal IT landscape: It must be secure.
“Cybersecurity is always going to be a concern,” Hashmi said. “But the fact is that our data, our assets, our content and our users don’t sit within the firewall anymore,” which increases the complexity of securing it, he said.
But mobile security is getting better, and in turn, we should see proliferation of mobility in the federal government in the near future, Hashmi said. “The industry is getting to a point where the right enterprise management solutions are in place, the mobile platforms are mature enough that they meet the encryption requirements and so forth where we can see a more increased adoption over the next few years.”
Greg Otto contributed to this report.