NASA Launches Mobile Apps Store

Agency employees and contractors can download apps for smartphones to access internal information, although choices are thin to start.
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NASA has launched a mobile apps store so agency personnel and contractors can access information from some internal systems from their mobile devices.

[email protected]--a service provided by the NASA Enterprise Applications Competency Center (NEACC)—is part of the agency's aim to act not merely as an agency but an "IT service provider" by using mobile devices to give employees anywhere, anytime access to information crucial to do their jobs, according to a blog post by NASA CIO Linda Cureton.

"Whether or not IT providers are ready or not, mobile devices both enterprise-issued and personally-owned are in the workplace," she said. "This service advances us a bit further beyond debate and into the world where IT service providers must enter--a world where the driving force of technology and customer expectations advance faster than policy and procurement cycles and the restraining force of security and legal issues like e-Discovery and records management keep our feet firmly grounded in reality."

Indeed, NASA has been ahead of many agencies in embracing technology more like a private-sector business than a traditional government agency, despite traditional constraints on agencies' ability to do so.

[NASA is holding an International Space Apps Competition to address global challenges. See NASA Unveils Space Apps Challenge.]

The agency was at the forefront of the feds' adoption of cloud computing, building its own cloud infrastructure, Nebula, that it is using internally to host applications and services.

Mobile applications are another area in which NASA has been an early adopter, offering apps for both iPhones and Android devices.

However, its mobile apps store for employees is a bit thin at the moment; the site currently has only two applications available in its apps store, but NASA plans to add more in the future.

Applications available in the store are WebTADS Mobile, which enables NASA employees to view and edit their time and attendance remotely from iPhones and BlackBerry devices, and NASA Contacts, which lets people look up NASA employee contact information directly from their iPhones.

The NEACC has a Center for Mobile Apps, which includes a range of services to support the agency's creation of internal mobile apps, Cureton said. Services include the ability to host, distribute, and provide support for internal mobile applications; develop mobile apps; and provide secure, NASA-approved authentication methods so employees can securely access agency resources, she said.

Allowing employees to access information behind the firewall on mobile devices is becoming more prevalent among federal agencies. Although BlackBerry devices have been used for some time--mainly for email access--the increased use of smartphones such as iPhones and Android-based devices has paved the way for agencies to create applications for greater access to internal systems.

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.)