The true value of mobility, big data, and the cloud emerges when agencies combine all three to help employees work more effectively.

Tom Suder, President and Founder, Mobilegov

March 13, 2014

3 Min Read
Government agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) gives <i>24</i> viewers an early look at the power of mobility and big data.<br />(Source: Wikimedia Commons)


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One of my favorite television programs, the iconic 24, features fictional characters Jack Bauer, a super-agent, and Chloe O'Brian, a super-systems analyst. They work out of Los Angeles for a fictional government agency called the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU). The show, which is slated for a reboot in a few months, first aired almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, but its early portrayal of two technology forces -- big data and mobility -- still resonates today.

A typical episode might have Jack, in imminent danger and with the civilized world hanging in the balance, calling from the field (using a flip phone) and asking Chloe to pull up the electrical grid of LA, analyze any anomalies, and superimpose known terrorist activity in the last 24 hours. "If I don't get the information in 60 seconds, the terrorists are setting off the suitcase nuke!"

Big data and mobility have moved into mainstream society today. But add the emerging power of cloud technology, and they could change the way government and society work.

[Here's what feds need to know from Barcelona's Mobile World Conference: 4 Govt. IT Trends From Mobile World Congress.]

Using today's technology, Jack Bauer could probably pull up schematics on his own smartphone with his computerized personal Siri-type assistant. (Can we call her Chloe?)

Agencies have already begun moving in that direction and are using mobility in their enterprises. Recently the FBI standardized on the Samsung S4 and the iPad for its smartphones and tablets. The Defense Department plans to release its completed MDM platform soon, which will allow military personnel to use iPhones and Samsung devices on military networks.

Almost all agencies have moved away from a BlackBerry-only approach. One reason is that using a BlackBerry may indicate that you work for the US government, since much of the world has switched to other devices. This is particularly relevant for State Department or intelligence community workers, because carrying a telltale device could put them at unnecessary and life-threatening risk.

Some agency IT shops think they can hoist the "mission accomplished" banner now that they've delivered the new mobile devices for which their bosses and agency employees have clamored. Not so fast. The real value of these devices comes from the confluence of cloud, mobility, and big data. What if a law enforcement agent could access his case management system and update it in real time? Better yet, what if an agent could take a picture of a person of interest and have her device access half a dozen public and private systems to obtain a scouting report on a possible suspect?

Most big data experts in government IT seem to focus on the systems analyst crowd -- i.e., the Chloes of the world. But the real opportunities lie in engaging field operatives and using big data tools to accomplish an agency's mission.

Intel and law enforcement shouldn't be the only ones to benefit from big data. The 2020 Census, for example, will require 500,000 temporary workers. Manual dispatch requires enormous overhead in personnel. What if big data were used to schedule dispatches systematically and dynamically, taking into account sick days, weather, traffic situations, and other factors?

Of course, big data capability on a smartphone has its downsides: Data falling into the wrong hands could compromise missions. However, contextually aware tools designed for big data and other technologies currently available can also mitigate some of those risks.

Big data mobile capabilities promise to help agency workers close criminal investigations, complete surveys, manage operatives, and accomplish other missions more efficiently -- maybe even as impressively as Jack Bauer.

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

About the Author(s)

Tom Suder

President and Founder, Mobilegov

Tom Suder is President and Founder of Mobilegov, Strategic Advisor to the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training, and an active leader in the federal mobility community. His work as  Industry Chair of ACT-IAC's Advanced Mobility Working Group led to recommendations that later became part of the federal government's Digital Government Strategy.

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