Federal Mobile Strategy Calls for Shift in Government IT

Longstanding practices of adoption and management may no longer apply in fast-moving mobile world, according to the CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

By Kenneth Corbin
Tue, January 31, 2012

CIO — RESTON, Va.—As the federal government works to craft a strategy for deploying mobile devices and applications across its sprawling workforce, the technology chiefs who will be leading the transition are embarking on what they see as a fundamental overhaul of the government's approach to IT, updating longstanding policies to respond more quickly to the pace of innovation that has been transforming enterprises across the private sector.

In the cloud arena, the feds have already rolled out initiatives that reflect the private-sector shift, including a government-facing app gallery and a so-called "cloud first" policy that prioritizes cloud technologies in the procurement process as the government embarks on an ambitious effort to consolidate its data centers.

The next frontier is mobile. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel formally announced the federal government's mobile initiative, through which department and agency CIOs and other tech leaders are developing a strategy for procuring, managing and securing smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, as well as policies for bringing apps in-house and sharing resources with the developer community.

Speaking at an event here at Sprint's offices organized by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Richard Holgate, CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the cochairman of a taskforce on mobile technology in the government, described an effort that, if successful, will entail a radical departure from business as usual in the world of government IT.

"What we've traditionally done, as [have] many other organizations for the last 15 or so years, is give everyone a laptop, and then we gave everyone a BlackBerry, and then, you know, we started to give people cellular broadband cards. And so suddenly, there was this proliferation of mobile data devices to support a workforce. It was kind of a one-size-fits-all solution based on the technology that was prevalent at the time," Holgate said.

"I think a lot of us got very comfortable with a model that started in roughly the early 1990s and persisted through about the mid-2000s—about a decade and a half—where Windows PCs dominated everything, and that was slightly disrupted by the introduction of BlackBerrys, but it was a very consistent model that we got very comfortable with," he added.

During that period, Holgate explained, the federal agencies were able to coast on relatively steady policies surrounding management, deployment, configuration and security, almost to a level of complacency.

"It was a relatively stable and some might say stagnant environment for that 15-year period, and then suddenly in the mid-2000s, first with BlackBerry and now increasingly with Android, iOS, Windows Phone—you name it—suddenly there was this proliferation of other things in the environment," he said.

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