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10/29/2013
09:11 AM
Tom Suder
Tom Suder
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Why We Need Digital Government Strategy 2.0

The federal government has been an early adopter of mobile technology but now it is time to take it to the next level. These five areas need to be addressed.



The promise of mobile technology has been transforming the consumer market drastically over the last few years at a rate unprecedented in history. More than one third of all US adults now own a tablet computer, a sector basically created when the iPad debuted in April of 2010.

This rapidly changing technology has the promise of increasing productivity while at the same time decreasing what organizations spend, which is particularly attractive in tough budgetary times.

The federal government has been an early adopter of mobile technology and has tried not only to keep pace with industry adoption, but also has tried to take a leadership role in setting enterprise policies, such as BYOD and mobile security.

For the last two years I have been privileged to work alongside Dr. Rick Holgate, CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as the industry co-chair of the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council's (ACT-IAC) Advanced Mobility Working Group.

This group proposed an idea that ultimately became the landmark "Digital Government Strategy" that was released by President Obama in conjunction with Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel on May 23, 2012 as a presidential memorandum. Over the following year, federal agencies have made much progress in the areas of BYOD, security APIs, and established unprecedented levels of collaboration between agencies.

There is more work to be done, however. I believe that follow-on is necessary to build on the good work done by the original strategy.

Here are the top five areas that need to be addressed in what might be thought of as Digital Government Strategy II:

BYOD Guidance

The "BYOD Toolkit" was released as a deliverable in August 2012. It was a great first step in providing examples of BYOD policy. Progress has stalled in agencies -- not for lack of technology, but in many cases because of tricky policy and legal issues.

This area will not be solved anytime soon unless all the agency lawyers can be brought together to collaborate on establishing different levels of BYOD guidance. Keep the technology people involved on the committee, but this may be the rare case in may take to get a lot of lawyers in the same room to get something done.

Rob Burton, the former head of Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in the Office of Management and Budget and a lawyer at Venable is an expert at BYOD Policy and may be the person you would want to head up a committee to address this issue.

Mobile Integration

As agency experts grapple with disparate issues such as app design, mobile device management/mobile application stores, app security, enterprise API, identity management and even ubiquitous wireless connectivity, there is the challenge of "putting all this technology together" to create a capability.

Establishing a "best practices" guide in this area would be helpful since most agencies are encountering similar issues as they deploy mobility.

Enterprise APIs

APIs are the "secret sauce" of the digital government strategy, according to Steve VanRoekel. While citizen-services APIs have been around since 2009 when Data.gov was launched, enterprise APIs were covered in the original Digital Government Strategy, but need further elaboration. For example, if all enterprise systems used common APIs, it would be easy to develop a mobile capability -- but maybe in a way not anticipated.

Imagine a world where a field worker could enter and view data from three systems to do his job, rather than logging into three separate systems, sometimes entering duplicative data. These three systems could vary drastically in age and capabilities, but it wouldn't matter since they would all look alike to a mobile or Web developer.

"FedRAMP-like" policy for mobile app security

As agencies move to mobility, new, unimagined threats potentially can enter the enterprise. While we all could see how law enforcement could benefit from a "blue-force" tracking app to know where its assets are, what if this system was compromised and the "bad guys" knew the same information?

There needs to be some guidance in this area -- potentially using a model similar to the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) that has been used to baseline cloud-security controls.

A good place to center some efforts in this area is to look at what the Department of Homeland Security is doing with its "Carwash" mobile app testing program. This program is meant to test government-developed apps. They have recently received a commitment from the Department of Justice that they will participate in this "shared-service."

Mobile-First/Mobile-Only policy

Many government workers create and access data, not from behind a desk but in the "field." Typically, some of the data is collected in a paper format and re-typed into "the system" at the end of the day.

Pam Hird, with the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented a program for her survey workers to go from a paper-based to a tablet system. She not only saved the department $3 million per year, but drastically reduced error rates.

As the president of a non-profit called the Digital Government Foundation, we are looking at non-IT areas to potentially save money. For example, I was part of an effort with the University of Central Florida to digitize the Federal Register using five data.gov feeds. President Obama ultimately decided to cancel the print version of the publication and highlighted the effort in the "Campaign to Cut Waste".

The original Digital Government Strategy directed agencies to identify two systems to "mobilize." Maybe DGF II could require them to actually mobilize two systems. That will really get government agencies thinking like business and figure out creative ways to finance mobility using existing resources.

The Digital Government Strategy was an influential document that has moved the federal government in mobility and really fostered a level of collaboration within government rarely seen. There is more work to be done and the collaboration needs to continue.

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