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As federal agencies look for ways to boost worker productivity and improve operations, one answer is within easy reach--smartphones. A majority of employees already carry agency-issued phones or, lacking those, their own iPhones, Androids, or BlackBerrys. The challenge is applying all that mobile capability in an efficient, secure, and coordinated way, and with apps that are designed for the job.
What's needed is a comprehensive, contemporary plan that lets government agencies take full advantage of a new generation of mobile devices and applications, in the same way that consumers and businesses are doing. After years of trying to manage mobility in ad hoc fashion, federal officials are now establishing a national plan. In January, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said that, by the end of March, he wants in place a federal mobile strategy that brings consistency to how devices and applications are used by agencies and departments. The goals are sweeping: improve the delivery of government information and services, reduce the cost of operations, raise the productivity of the federal workforce, foster collaboration, and engage the public.
VanRoekel is encouraging agencies to "be bold" in how they proceed. That will require innovative thinking about how to map agencies' existing policies to a unifying strategy. Agencies have been flying in many directions--some let employees bring their own devices to work, others don't; some develop mobile apps internally, but not all. The national strategy must provide enough direction to unleash the power of mobility, while giving agencies the leeway to really make it work.
Two-thirds of federal workers use mobile devices daily, according to a survey by Fabrizio, Ward, and Associates, and agencies have developed dozens of mobile applications, some for employee use and others for public consumption. But it's been a disjointed approach with little oversight from the White House or the Office of Management and Budget, and some of the policies that do exist were written for an earlier generation of devices. An IRS policy, for example, identifies dozens of security controls for PEDs (portable electronic devices) and PDAs (personal digital assistants) and refers to "add-on modules," but makes no mention of smartphones or downloadable applications.
The OMB wants to create government-wide guidelines for today's mobile platforms, applications, security, and management. The federal strategy seeks to do that by providing a "governance structure" and a "foundation" for cross-agency mobility services and functionality. That's not unlike what the feds are already doing in the area of cybersecurity, where the Federal Information Security Management Act and policies on adopting continuous monitoring systems promise to raise the level of cybersecurity across government. In the area of mobility, agencies could benefit from, say, standard approaches to device security and management.
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