Latest Tablet Fans: U.S. Census Bureau - InformationWeek

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Latest Tablet Fans: U.S. Census Bureau

Next census not until 2020, but bureau already working on field data collection via tablet apps.

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The next U.S. census isn't until 2020, but the U.S. Census Bureau is planning ahead to ensure its use of mobile devices to collect data in the field will be working smoothly next time around.

The bureau has awarded Agilex a four-year contract to develop new mobile applications so fieldworkers can use tablets such as iPads and Android-based devices to collect information, according to the company, which is not disclosing the financial terms of the deal.

A handheld device snafu infamously hampered information collection during last year's census, costing the bureau time and money when it was hoping to expedite data collection by using custom handheld devices in the field to forgo paper-based collection.

While Agilex's work will most likely improve processes during the next census, the company also is addressing the bureau's current needs to improve field data collection, said Ira Entis, president of the systems integrator's advanced technologies business.

"It's both thinking about the future but also tactically looking at immediate needs for evolving how they use mobile technology," he said about his company's work with the bureau.

[ Agencies are rolling out mobile tech to help government workers and contractors do their jobs better. See NASA Launches Mobile Apps Store . ]

In the intervals between official U.S. censuses, which occur every 10 years, about 6,000 to 12,000 bureau workers collect data for other agencies for purposes such as gauging unemployment and new property purchases, Entis said.

Agilex will help the bureau create applications so fieldworkers can collect data primarily on tablets, but possibly on smaller form factors such as smartphones, he said. In fact, Agilex last year demonstrated for the bureau how the 2010 census might have gone if it had used iPads and iPhones to collect data in the field.

Entis said part of his company's work will be to "future proof" the bureau's choice of mobile platform so as needs and technology evolve, so can the bureau's use of it. This, he believes, is where the Census Bureau went wrong last year in its choice of a proprietary handheld device for data collection.

"They locked into the technology three years before the census," Entis said. "That's multiple generations of technologies in the mobile space."

The type of device for the apps Agilex will develop has not yet been chosen, but iPad, Android, and Microsoft tablets are the frontrunners for the project, Entis said.

The Census Bureau is not the only federal agency using Agilex to extend its mobile solutions. The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the systems integrator to deliver components of its electronic health record system to mobile devices. The U.S. Marshals Service also has worked with Agilex to develop a mobile app store.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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