Government CIOs Insist on Business Case for Mobile Deployments

As federal agency and department CIOs develop a government-wide mobile strategy, IT leaders face concerns about device flexibility and solid use cases.

By Kenneth Corbin
Wed, April 04, 2012

CIO — WASHINGTON -- When federal CIOs think about relaxing their policies for mobile workers, their concerns are not altogether different from those that keep their counterparts in the private sector up at night.

To be sure, enterprise CIOs are insulated from charges of wasting taxpayer dollars if a project goes sour, and the federal government does have unique security and compliance concerns, but issues around employees bringing their own devices to work and the cost/benefit analysis of deploying a new device like Apple's iPad are common to business and government.

But there is no doubt about it -- federal and state governments are going mobile, albeit at perhaps a generally slower pace than the business world.

"I think mobile technology is critical to our business, to our environment, to the things that we do," Stephen Fletcher, Utah's CIO and the former CIO of the Department of Education, said in a panel discussion here at the FOSE government IT conference. Utah has deployed more than 1,000 applications to extend its government services to digital platforms, which increasingly means mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.

"We use these online applications because our citizens require it," Fletcher said. "Our citizens want all information, any time, on any device. So that's kind of a really, really tough thing to provide, but that's where the mobile technology comes into play."

A similar -- though much more ambitious -- initiative is underway at the federal level. In January, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel announced the launch of a broad-ranging program to articulate policies for procuring, managing and securing mobile devices, and establish guidelines for developing apps for deployment in the federal government.

The federal effort aims to serve two sets of customers: citizens and the government workers whose productivity and effectiveness figure to improve with access to the new technology. Richard Holgate, the CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the co-chair of the federal government's mobile task force, emphasized that the initiative is not simply a case of pursuing technology for technology's sake.

"This is not really about mobility and technology per se. This is about how to better serve the business," Holgate said.

Other officials emphasized the importance of developing a solid business case for equipping workers with, say, a tablet computer, or sinking considerable resources into application development, echoing the concerns that surround decisions about mobile deployments in private-sector IT shops.

"We've worked very hard to separate the toy and the jazz and to [determine] what's the business value and utility of this tool," said Stephen Warren, principal assistant deputy secretary for information and technology with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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