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8/26/2012
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USDA Expands Mobile Efforts

Agency hopes to expand number of mobile users in the department from 15,000 to 100,000 with program that will support both government-issued and personal phones and tablets.

10 New Mobile Government Apps
10 New Mobile Government Apps
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a request for proposals for a "next generation" mobility initiative that could potentially expand the number of mobile users at the department from about 15,000 today to more than 100,000.

The USDA is comprised of 17 agencies distributed among more than 3,000 office locations. There are about 130,000 computer users in the department, but only about 15,000 have mobile devices at work.

Through a combination of agency-issued devices and a "bring your own device" (BYOD) policy, USDA anticipates the number of mobile devices supported by a new mobile architecture could swell to 100,000. The department expects to issue a five-year, $20 million contract that encompasses both government-issued and employee-owned devices.

Today, USDA workers carry some 12,000 BlackBerrys and 3,600 other mobile devices, according to the RFP. The agency expects the number of BlackBerrys to remain flat or decline as more workers begin to use Apple iOS, Android, and Windows 8 devices.

[ Read Feds Give Agencies More BYOD Advice. ]

There are three major components to the RFP: mobile device management, applications management, and virtualized "containers" to keep government data separate from personal data on employee devices.

The RFP specifies that the mobile device management platform support "over-the-air" administration, logging and tracking of devices, inventory management, and role-based management. And it must scale to more than 100,000 devices.

The agency also wants an enterprise "application store" or portal where internally developed and commercial apps can be downloaded by employees. A mobile application management capability is needed to deploy, secure, update, and remove apps.

The RFP also calls for the ability to securely isolate government data in "containers" on personal mobile devices. The containers must be able to be synched up to USDA servers and managed by the mobile data management system so that devices can be remotely wiped if lost or stolen.

The USDA says it will consider on-premises systems to manage and support its mobile devices, a cloud-based approach, or a combination of the two. The agency wants the selected vendor to install and configure the new systems and integrate them as necessary, but it plans to provide day-to-day administration of devices and applications with "USDA designated" personnel.

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